In February, a netizen posted a blog titled “Have a look at this, if you still want to live” on China’s leading search engine, baidu.com.
In his post, the blogger went on to claim inside information from a friend at the national earthquake administration that “there was a 90% chance of a quake hitting Shanxi province.”
Within hours, the post spread like wildfire in the coal-rich province. As rumours about the destructive earthquake grew, people panicked and tried to warn their family and friends.
A Jinzhong resident wrote on the internet: “I received more than 10 phone calls from my friends and family to get me out of the house. It felt like I was in the movie 2012!”
The Shanxi Earthquake Administration quickly issued a clarification on its website, urging people not to believe in the rumours. The administration’s website later crashed under heavy traffic.
But that didn’t stop tens of thousands of residents gathering valuable belongings and fleeing their homes in the middle of the night, despite the freezing weather. Village officials in Qixian, Pingyao and Zuoquan counties even used loudhailers to rouse people from their beds, urging them to flee outdoors to avoid injury in the earthquake. Many moved their household appliances out of the house to avoid potential damage says the Global Times.
Lang Xiaojing, a resident of the provincial capital Taiyuan, told the China Daily that after she heard the quake rumour from her sister she woke her husband and son, removed Rmb20,000 ($2,920) that she had hidden under the bedside table and then fled the house.
Like Lang, Cao Hui said he also left his home after receiving an urgent call from one of his friends.
“I doubted it at first and thought it could be a joke. But I started to believe it when I saw hundreds of people standing outside on my block. Some were even holding their bank cards,” says Cao.
Later that morning the Seismological Bureau of Shanxi Province issued a public statement encouraging residents to return to their houses. A few days later, local police arrested five people who confessed to spreading the quake rumours.
Why would people believe a rumour on the internet rather than their own government? As it turns out, the Shanxi earthquake authority has a rather spotty track record at predicting earthquakes. In January the Shanxi officials denied an earthquake rumour, but two days later a 4.8-magnitude earthquake hit the province, causing damage to hundreds of houses.
A man in Shanxi told the Epoch Times: “The more the Seismological Bureau denies a rumour, the more frightened people become. The denial is even scarier than the earthquake itself.”
Others have taken the opportunity to lambast the local earthquake experts: “I had no sleep last night, and everybody panicked. It was the result of the Seismological Bureau’s poor credibility – people would rather believe in rumours than the authorities.”
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