Well before the city of Tangshan in China was destroyed by an earthquake 32 years ago, the coming disaster was loudly preceded by strange animal behaviour and other bizarre signals that survivors wish they heeded.
"The animals were trying to tell us something. If only we knew that, not so many people would have died," said Fu Wenran, a retired farmer whose wife was among the estimated 240,000 who perished in Tangshan's quake on July 28, 1976.
Several survivors of the disaster in this northern city – still the deadliest earthquake of modern times – said the toll in this month's quake in southwestern China could have been minimised if such clues had been validated.
Chinese media reports and Internet blogs have buzzed with reports of mass migrations of thousands of frogs and toads near the quake region in Sichuan province just before the May 12 disaster, which left more than 80,000 people dead or missing.
Whether linked to the quake or not, there is little dispute among scientists that animals can predict earthquakes, possibly through sensitivity to pressure waves.
"Physical and chemical stimuli emanate from the earth prior to an earthquake and animals probably sense that," said Dr. George Pararas-Carayannis, a chemist and oceanographer who is president of the Honolulu-based Tsunami Society.
"Eventually, studies of animal behaviour could lead to better and more sophisticated sensors for use in short-term prediction."