Museums that remember the great catastrophe
The People's Republic of China has turned Beichuan county, where the 8-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province on 12 May 2008 caused the most severe damage and half of the population was lost, into an open-air museum where earthquake victims can mourn and scientific research on the earthquake will be conducted. Another indoor museum, named after Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the earthquake, describes rescue work and post-earthquake activities.

The earthquake, which affected 8 provinces and 38 counties in Sichuan province, occurred at 14.28 on 12 May 2008. During the earthquake, workers were in their offices and factories, farmers in their fields and children in schools. 374 thousand 643 people were injured in the earthquake, 87 thousand 150 people died or disappeared, and 15.1 million people were left homeless. Economic losses reached 845.1 billion yuan. In addition to the severe tremors, giant rocks breaking off from the mountains caused great damage to the Beichuan district at the foot of the Longmen mountains in the Mianyang city of Sichuan province, which we visited at the invitation of China Media Group. Students and teachers lost their lives in Beichuan Secondary School, which was buried under the rocks. Houses, hospitals, public buildings, roads and bridges collapsed. 3-4 floors of some buildings were buried under the ground. Infrastructure was completely damaged. Almost half of the population, 20 thousand people, were recorded as dead or missing.

THEY DID NOT LET THE BULLDOZERS IN

After the earthquake, no bulldozers were allowed into Beichuan to remove the rubble. A different plan was implemented. The goal was to preserve the earthquake site as it was, almost freezing the moment.

First, they repaired the damaged roads. Heavily damaged buildings were supported with steel pipes. Buildings half buried in the ground, some tilted 30-40 degrees, were supported with the same method to prevent collapse. In front of the dilapidated buildings, small platforms were placed with photographs showing their pre-earthquake images and telling their stories. While walking around the wreckage of Bechiuan, it is possible to see the curtains flying sadly from open windows, pots of dried flowers on abandoned balconies, overturned chairs, armchairs, dusty chandeliers swaying with the breeze coming in through broken windows.

HEROIC POLICE OFFICER ZUO YI

On the ground floor of the Beichuan Police Station building, where police officer Zuo Yi was buried under rubble while rescuing two suspects in custody, a tunnel of profile pipes was built to allow visitors to see the destruction from the inside.

After the rescue troops entered the township, many of the victims were pulled from the rubble, and the bodies, which could not be transported for burial because the road out of the township was blocked by rolling rocks, were buried en masse in an area to show respect and prevent a major outbreak. Now that area is a lush green mausoleum surrounded by pines and cypresses where the victims rest in peace.

According to our guide, on the night of the earthquake there was a serious lack of food and water, people did not know if there would be a bigger earthquake. The supermarket on the ground floor of the Forestry Bureau, which did not collapse in the earthquake, was used as the centre from which relief supplies were sent to the survivors. The shelves and refrigerators of that supermarket are still there.

THE ROOMS WERE SMALL AND THE BUILDING DID NOT COLLAPSE

A building that was not damaged in the earthquake was also taken under protection. After examining it, experts agreed that the building did not collapse because the rooms were too small.

With a total conservation area of 1.2 square kilometres and a core conservation area of 0.79 square kilometres, today the old district of Beichuan has become a centre for visits, commemorations, scientific research and training in disaster prevention and mitigation.

NEW BEICHUAN MOVED 30 KILOMETRES AWAY

As part of its reconstruction efforts, the Chinese government moved Beichuan County 30 kilometres away to an area where the ground is safer. In two years, a brand new county was created by rebuilding smooth and wide roads as if drawn with a ruler, lush green parks with ponds with swans swimming in them, schools, hospitals, public buildings, workplaces and houses.

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