China addresses school collapses

Nearly four months after the devastating earthquake in China, a government scientist acknowledged Thursday that a rush to build schools in recent years likely led to construction flaws causing so many of them to collapse.

It was the first official admission that low building standards may have led to the deaths of thousands of children. Government critics have raised questions about shoddy construction after the 7.9-magnitude quake killed nearly 70,000 people in Sichuan province, including many students crushed when their classrooms crumbled.

Ma Zongjin, chairman of an official expert committee on the May 12 earthquake, said Thursday that poor quality construction materials were one possible reason more than 1,000 schools were damaged. The government has said about 7,000 school buildings were destroyed but has so far not released a tally of how many schoolchildren died.

“In recent years, a lot of school buildings have been built in China and in this process of rapid development, some problems may exist,” Ma, a geologist, told reporters in Beijing. “The structure of the school buildings may not be reasonable enough and the related construction materials may not be strong enough.”

While the government has promised an investigation and strict punishment for bad construction, there has been no public attempt so far to hold anyone to account.