Earthquake experts say the collapsed schools may be a sign of poor construction despite adequate building codes.
In the wake of Monday's 7.9-magnitude earthquake in China's southwestern province of Sichuan, some international experts are questioning the adequacy of the region's building codes and construction practices.
Juyuan Middle School, about 60 miles from the epicenter, was one of several schools that collapsed Monday. So far rescuers have recovered more than 60 bodies from the school, the official Xinhua News Agency said. But there was little word on the rest of the nearly 900 teenagers who were believed to be trapped under their collapsed school building.
Some students managed to escape, while at least one was pulled out of the wreckage alive Tuesday morning. At least 1,000 students and teachers were killed or missing after another school collapsed in Mianyang city, about 100 miles northeast of the epicenter, Xinhua reported.
Other schools closer to the epicenter also toppled, although specifics were not available because the area was generally inaccessible.
Earthquake engineers say that constructing a building to resist a quake of magnitude 7 or 8 is possible, but is often considered cost prohibitive, adding 7 to 8 percent in costs.
"Earthquake resistance is really more workmanship, than material," Amr Elnashai, director of the Mid-America Earthquake Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says.
Most seismologists interviewed say that China's quake code is adequate, if not the most up-to-date. "It is well-defined and has all the right features," says Mr. Elnashai.
Earthquake resistance, he notes, does not mean buildings don't sustain damage; they do, but don't collapse.
Schools, he says, are particularly vulnerable because they are often mid-sized buildings, smaller projects for contractors that are paid for the a government bureaucracies. Two recent earthquakes in Indonesia and in Kashmir also resulted in a disproportionate student deaths. "Often school buildings suffer quite a bit," Elnashnai says.