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Healing hearts, rebuilding houses and repairing lives to start afresh

ONE year ago today, at 2:28pm, the earth shook and life changed forever in Sichuan Province.

The earthquake smashed buildings, crumpled mountains, changed the course of rivers and claimed nearly 70,000 lives.

After an extraordinary rescue and relief effort, Sichuan is indeed rising from the ashes and people are rebuilding not only structures but also their lives.

It's far harder, however, to heal the hearts of a community than to put up a new high rise.

Dujiangyan (paired with Shanghai for rebuilding) and Mianyang cities were among those devastated in the 8.0-magnitude temblor.

After a year, most people have gone back to their daily routines, some in temporary communities, others in new apartments. But many of their family, friends and familiar faces are gone.

Mianyang, Sichuan's second-largest city after the capital Chengdu, became famous for its Beichuan County, where the main town was utterly destroyed. That dangerous site near the epicenter will be abandoned. A new town is planned 23 kilometers away.

Beichuan High School, which lost more than 1,000 of its 3,000 students, has resumed classes in the training center of Changhong Co, the largest enterprise in Mianyang.

After the quake, many survivors stayed in Jiuzhou Gym in Mianyang, the largest shelter.

These people have now either moved in with relatives or shifted to one of the few temporary communities near the city. These communities are organized like the originals, with shops, markets, community offices, health care, playgrounds and other facilities and services. People are getting acquainted with their neighbors and go about their business.

Many Beichuan natives now live in the Yongxing temporary community, waiting for the new town to be finished. Some operate tourist shops on the road to the rubble of the old town. The area has been closed off for safety reasons but was reopened for the one-year anniversary of quake on Sunday for three days.

Life goes on, but it's not unusual to see people with disabilities who were injured in the earthquake. Most of the Beichuan survivors lost family members.

Dujiangyan city, 30 minutes' drive from Chengdu, lost more than 3,000 residents and suffered economic losses of more than 50 billion yuan (US$7.27 billion). More than 80 percent of the buildings were damaged in the city, more than 90 percent in the mountains.

It has been paired with Shanghai for relief and reconstruction.

The tourist city is famous for scenery at Qingcheng Mountain and the ancient irrigation and water conservation project at Dujiangyan.

Most residents have moved to temporary communities. Residents play mahjong after work, chat with neighbors and do their shopping.

Many women who lost their jobs when their factories collapsed are training for new jobs. People gather in the early evening to dance together - dancing was suggested by volunteer mental health counselors as a way of easing the pain from loss.

As the temperature rises, some people are returning to their repaired and reinforced homes. It's too hot to stay in the simply built temporary rooms in summer.

Others, whose houses cannot be rebuilt, are looking forward to moving soon into new apartments allocated by the government. A few lucky people have already moved into the new buildings - offering 70 square meters for a household of three.


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