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February 22, 2010

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Thousands flee their homes as earthquake rumor takes hold

THOUSANDS of people fled their homes in Shanxi Province early yesterday fearing an earthquake.

The panic was sparked by rumors of an imminent disaster after the authorities had launched a review of emergency procedures to deal with a real earthquake.

Shanxi authorities used text messages, radio stations and TV channels to inform residents of the real situation.

People had gathered in squares in Taiyuan City as early as late Saturday night after rumors that the provincial capital would be the epicenter of the "quake," the People's Daily online said.

People living in other cities in the province also panicked. Crowds caused traffic congestion in Luliang City's main streets for more than three hours, China News Service reported yesterday.

They had all received phone calls or short messages from families and friends that a major earthquake was going to hit the city.

The rumors began to take shape after a one-week examination of earthquake rescue facilities in the province was ordered, People's Daily said.

Shanxi was renewing its earthquake rescue plans to enhance its ability to address natural disasters and the drills many government organizations carried out were misinterpreted as preparation for an actual disaster.

Rumors of an earthquake had been circulating since January 15, according to Shanxi Youth Daily.

Later versions of the rumor said the imaginary earthquake would hit downtown Taiyuan at approximately 4am yesterday. The rumor gained credibility after a relatively minor earthquake was felt in the province's Yuncheng City on January 24.

A worker surnamed Rong at the Yangquan City seismic bureau said people were sleeping on the city square on Saturday night.

He said the provincial earthquake authorities had ordered them to clear up the misunderstanding immediately.


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