Historic Earthquakes

Tangshan, Six Years Later

by Robert Wallace,
U.S. Geological Survey,
Menlo Park, California

1976 Tangshan earthquake
Air view in 1976 of the devastation in Tangshan after the earthquake. A few tents and temporary shelters can be seen among the debris. (Photograph from Hebei Provincial Seismological Bureau.)

1976 Tangshan earthquake
Row of trees along the Jixang road offset 5 feet by right slip on fault. Because of the scientific significance, the site is now protected by an iron fence built by the Hebei Provincial Seismological Bureau.

1976 Tangshan earthquake
Road at Tangshan No. 10 Middle School offset by displacement on fault.

1976 Tangshan earthquake
Damage at Tangshan Rolling Stock Plant. This site is being preserved as a record of the destructive forces of earthquakes.

1976 Tangshan earthquake
Damage to the library of the Hebei Mine Smelting Institute. This building is being preserved as a record of what happened in the 1976 earthquake.

At 3:42 a.m. on July 28, 1976 (local time), the now infamous Tangshan earthquake struck that heavily industrialized city in eastern China, killing, by official count, 240,000 people. During the first 2 years after the earthquake, estimates of casualties ranged from 650,000 to 800,000. Almost certainly the exact number will never be known. The earthquake was measured at magnitude 7.5, and intensities that registered XI on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale occurred throughout the city of Tangshan.

In September 1982, I visited Tangshan with a group of scientists who were participating in the International Symposium and Study Tour on Continental Seismicity and Earthquake Prediction, and most of the accompanying photographs were taken at that time.

In the 6 years since the earthquake, Tangshan has been reestablished as a major productive city, and the original population of 1 million has swelled by 20 percent. The survivors of Tangshan were joined by hundreds of thousands from other provinces, all dedicated to rebuilding the city. Hundreds of apartments have been built, and factories ranging from steel rolling mills to ceramic plants producing beautiful china are again in operation. New roads have been completed or are under construction, and the coal mines, one of the basic industries of the Tangshan area, are once more in full production.

Many people, however, still live in temporary housing built of reused brick and masonry gathered from the old earthquake-collapsed structures. Roofs of the one-story temporary shacks are of heavy tar-paperlike mats held in place by bricks and rocks.

Everywhere, heavy equipment as well as intensive manual labor are being used in the reconstruction effort. The sense of an aggressive dynamic city prevails.

As a memorial to those who died in the earthquake, as well as for instruction to future generations about the devastation earthquakes can do, a museum has been established and was opened for the first time to receive the delegation of scientists in September 1982. In addition, several collapsed buildings have been left untouched, and sites that show surface faulting have been preserved for their engineering and scientific interest.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, May-June 1983, Volume 15, Number 3.