华尔街日报 加拿大木业协会 2014.10.17

  When the earth rumbled just before bedtime inChina's Yunnan province on Tuesday and authorities set their highest-levelemergency alert, many braced for heavy casualties. But two days later, theofficial death toll from the magnitude 6.6 quake in Jinggu County stood at justone person.

The area's sparse population is one reason.Another, according to Chinese officials: the prevalence of wood-framed homes,an uncommon building structure in China.

Huang Fugang, director of the provincialseismological administration, was quoted Thursday in the China Daily and other state media as saying that homes in the thickly forestedarea are generally built with wood, and that such structures have a good chanceof withstanding earthquakes.

That's the message pushed by wood producersin Canada and other tree-exporting nations that hope to encourage Chineseauthorities to alter perceptions and dial back conservative building codes thatfavor concrete construction over wood.

"Wood frame buildings are safer than concreteand masonry buildings in areas with a high risk of earthquakes," says a thickreport from trade group Canada Wood that pushes wood on China. "They savelives and reduce the cost of reconstruction."

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The Canadian government-funded trade groupresponded to Sichuan province's massive 2008 temblor with a campaign tohighlight the virtues of wood-frame homes in seismically active regions ofChina.

Challenging public perceptions has been anuphill battle in a nation where trust is higher for steel and concretestructures, said Lance Tao, marketing director for Canada Wood in Shanghai.Wrongly, he said, "People think that wood frame homes are not durable, and willcatch on fire, and won't be resistant to termites."

Wood proponents don't pretend that livingconditions in mountainous Yunnan and Sichuan provinces are like those inChina's densely populated urban centers, where steel and concrete are crucialfor apartment buildings that rise skyward.

Mr. Tao said Chinese building code permitswood framed homes up to three floors, whereas the Canadian provinces of BritishColumbia and Ontario allow buildings up to six floors. He said 200 to 300builders in China are trained in modern methods to erect wood framed-homes,while some major property groups are also embracing the material. The groupsays the modern building system, called the two-by-four or light-wood frame, issuperior to more slapdash methods used in many traditional Chinese woodenhomes.

Many people in China, he said, associate woodwith traditional construction and risks. Two-thirds of the hilly ancient townthat claims the name of Shangri-La, also in Yunnan province, burned virtuallyto the ground in January during a massive blaze of its wooden homes.

"That's not because of wood," said Mr. Tao,adding that instead it reflected poor construction. (Xinhua quoted officials blaming the closeproximity of the wooden houses and winds that fanned flames, and residentscomplaining that hydrants malfunctioned.)

After this week's quake, Wang Bin, a vicechief of Yunnan's seismological bureau, also credited as relatively quake-proofthe region's wooden structures, according to Xinhua.

Accounts differed about what killed the onlyvictim to die during the temblor, a 58-year-old woman named Dao Qiongfen. Somereports said she was hit by flying bricks in her barn while others said she waspinned beneath a downed wall.

About 324 people were injured.