New Delhi, May 13 : Warnings about a major earthquake taking place in China's Sichuan province were, would you believe it, given by toads, two days before the tragedy.
On Saturday, local media reported that hundreds of thousands of toads appeared on the streets of Manzhu, a city about 60 km southeast of Wenchuan, the county worst hit by Monday's earthquake.
A resident surnamed Liu was quoted by The China Daily as saying that he saw countless toads killed by passing vehicles as they crossed roads, and that he had never seen anything like it.
Unfortunately, no one had the presence of mind to understand why the toads were out on the streets. Experts have said animals can give advance notice of quakes, as they sense tremors before they happen.
Furthermore, a seismologist had warned more than five years ago that a strong earthquake was likely in Sichuan.
"Sichuan is virtually certain to experience an earthquake measuring above 7 in the next few years," Chen Xuezhong, a senior researcher with the geophysics institute of State Seismological Bureau (SSB), wrote in a paper published in December 2002, in the periodical Recent Developments in World Seismology.
The article is still available online.
In the article, Chen said Sichuan stood a big chance of being hit by a huge temblor due to its geographic location, and records since 1800 showed the average interval between major quakes in the province was about 16 years.
Since 1900, the area had experienced frequent big temblors, and records showed the longest interval between them was 19 years, with the average being 11 years, the paper said.
"However, the area hasn't seen any earthquake measuring above 7 for 26 years, since a big temblor struck its Songpan and Pingwu counties in 1976. We must be prepared for a big earthquake after 2003," Chen wrote
In a telephone interview with China Daily on Monday, Chen said many seismologists had noticed the pattern, which was why he did the study.
"But the study was published as an academic paper so it didn't receive much attention," he said.