Scars begin to heal a decade after Sichuan quake

BEICHUAN, China (Reuters) - A decade after a massive earthquake rocked China’s southwestern province of Sichuan, killing almost 70,000 people, the scars have begun to heal.

The 7.9 magnitude quake which hit on May 12, 2008 was most devastating around its epicenter in Beichuan.

Many of the houses that collapsed remain buried under the earth and are covered by overgrown bushes and weeds.

In some of the houses still standing, now part of an open air memorial to the dead, wedding photos hang on the wall.

Damaged school classrooms remain a mess, with books on the desks turning black with rot.

Signs in Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean and French urge visitors to be careful where they tread to let the dead rest in peace.

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Scars begin to heal a decade after Sichuan quake
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Scars begin to heal a decade after Sichuan quake

Zheng Haiyang, 27, a student who survived the earthquake and whose legs were amputated after he was rescued, mourns in front of a stele for victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, next to the site of Beichuan Middle School which was buried by boulders, in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018.

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Wang Shiming (L), 11, and his brother Wang Shiqi, 13, great-grandsons of surviving villager Liu Guizhen, watch television in an old house damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, at a village on a mountain in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A card featuring the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong and Tiananmen Gate is seen next to a shrine in the old dwelling of surviving villager Wang Guocheng, at a minority village destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A wedding photograph, seen through a window, hangs on a wall in an apartment which was damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A visitor stands in front of the site of Beichuan Middle School which was buried by boulders in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Desks stand in the classroom of Beichuan Vocational Education Centre destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A boy runs through the site of Beichuan Vocational Education Centre which was destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Abandoned shoes are seen in an old dwelling at a minority village which was destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, on a mountain in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A bulb covered with cobwebs hangs inside a house at a minority village destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake on a mountain in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Surviving villager Ma Qingan walks through doors after leaving his old house at a minority village which was badly damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Surviving villager Liu Guizhen, 95, sits in her old house, damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, at a village on a mountain in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A mosquito net provided by the Chinese Red Cross during the earthquake rescue, still being used by surviving villager Chen Mingyou, hangs in his old house which was heavily damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, at a village on a mountain in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A girl reads the dates on a sign with portraits of staff members who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, at the site of a branch of Agricultural Bank of China, in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A Buddhist prays in front of the site of Beichuan Middle School which was buried by boulders in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, ahead of Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Buildings which were damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake stand alongside a dry riverbed in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A mountain road which leads to a minority village, destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, is seen in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A book lies on a desk in the classroom of Beichuan Vocational Education Centre which was destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A backboard is seen at the site of Beichuan Middle School which was buried by boulders in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A man from the ethnic Qiang minority visits the tomb of his deceased relative on the Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day, at a minority village which was destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, on a mountain in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Beichuan Vocational Education Centre which was destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake stands in the city of Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Buildings which were destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake stand alongside a dry riverbed in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A vehicle drives past apartment blocks destroyed in a landslide caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, at the foot of a mountain in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Buildings which were damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, stand by a partially dried up river in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

The door of surviving villager Wang Guocheng's dwelling stands among weeds at a minority village heavily damaged in 2008 Sichuan earthquake on a mountain in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A covered body lies in front of the ruins of a destroyed old city district, near a mountain at the earthquake-hit Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, May 16, 2008. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A statue stands at the site of a school destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Ruins of a destroyed old city district and a landslide are seen in the earthquake-hit Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, May 16, 2008. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Weeds grow at the site of the old city district which was destroyed after a landslide caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, at the foot of a mountain in the city of Beichuan, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Floodwaters from the Tangjiashan quake lake flow through the earthquake-devastated city of Beichuan in Sichuan province, China, June 11, 2008. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A man walks towards Beichuan Middle School which was buried under boulders before people were ordered to evacuate from the centre of earthquake-hit Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, May 17, 2008. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Rescue workers and local residents look for survivors in the ruins of the destroyed old city district, near a mountain at the earthquake-hit Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, May 15, 2008. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A combination picture shows a covered body placed in front of the ruins of a destroyed old city district three days after 2008 Sichuan earthquake, May 15, 2008 (top), and the same view ahead of the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018.

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A combination picture shows floodwaters from Tangjiashan quake lake flowing through the devastated city of Beichuan in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, June 11, 2008 (top), and the same view ahead of the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A combination picture shows a man walking towards Beichuan Middle School buried under boulders five days after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, May 17, 2008 (top), and the same view ahead of the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A combination picture shows rescue workers and local residents looking for survivors in the ruins of destroyed old city district near a mountain three days after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, May 15, 2008 (top), and the same view ahead of the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, in Beichuan county, Sichuan province, China, April 6, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

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Chen Mingyou, 73, survived the quake but his daughter and son-in-law died.

A new home stands nearby, but Chen prefers to stay in his old house which he said was repaired to meet new safety standards.

“I am used to the old house. I only stay in the new house when my son and grandson come back to visit,” he said.

Some of the most heart-wrenching stories from the 2008 quake came from the schools which collapsed, crushing children alive.

Zheng Haiyang, now 27, lost both his legs after being buried in Beichuan Middle School, where he was trapped for more than 22 hours.

“I still feel sad now when I think of that time, but I am in a good condition now. Many people and organizations have helped me after the quake,” Zheng said.

He now works for an Internet company in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. “It’s a platform to provide services to disabled people.” he said.

Other survivors recalled their own narrow escape from serious injury or death.

Liu Guizhen, 95, and her 106-year-old husband Wang Guanneng both survived the quake that killed their adopted son and daughter-in-law.

Liu said a rock flew over her head when the quake struck as she was busy working in the fields, leaving her unscathed.

The local government is supporting villagers to develop leisure and tourism industries after the quake, and many quake survivors have turned their newly-built houses into inns.

Liu says she also makes some money from selling eggs to tourists.

Sichuan remains seismically active.

Last August, a 7.0-magnitude quake in a mountainous part of Sichuan popular with tourists killed 20 and injured around 500.

(Ben Blanchard reported from Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)

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