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One year on: survivors return to remember their loved ones

THE earthquake-devastated Beichuan County in Sichuan Province reopened yesterday, allowing people to mourn the dead ahead of the first anniversary of the devastating disaster tomorrow.

Some 21,000 people, or two-thirds of Beichuan's total population, were lost in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12 last year, making the county the hardest hit by the disaster.

Mourners brought flowers, incense and candles and set off firecrackers in the ruins of former bus stations, county government buildings and homes.

Jia Shunming was visiting for the first time since the earthquake.

"I was too scared to come back even though it was open during Chinese New Year and Qingming Festival. My elder sister tried to drag me here and couldn't stop crying, but I just couldn't help backing away as we got close," the 24-year-old recalled yesterday.

Jia was not in his house when the quake hit and was taken to hospital suffering from broken bones in both hands.

"I found myself left with my elder sister and 82-year-old grandmother after I recovered in the hospital. They were visiting friends in Mianyang City at the time," Jia said as he stood where 19 members of his family were buried.

Jia helps out at a friend's shop in Mianyang, where he and his grandmother live. He tries hard not to think of that disastrous day last May.

"It was not until last week, when my childhood friends from Beichuan told me about the one-year anniversary, that I suddenly realized I should come back to commemorate my families and friends here. Even after a year, it all came back to me," Jia said. He had been having nightmares about the earthquake and the family he lost during the past week.

Many of the town's residents have come back to the town from Mianyang or the Yongxing temporary community. Others have come from all over the country carrying white and yellow chrysanthemums, typically used for commemoration of the lost in China.

"I want to help them in decorating the place, but on the other hand, I don't want to bother them," said a volunteer who helped carry medicine and food into Beichuan last May.

"I arrived on May 15, when the town had already collapsed. Even a year later, I still can't imagine thousands of bodies under here. I can't think of the moment of the earthquake."

The volunteer, in his 20s, put a large bundle of yellow chrysanthemums on a patch of ground where a sign read: "Please be quiet in order to give the lost some peace."

There were many more flowers at the site of the Beichuan High School, where around 1,000 students were lost.

Tourist shops fill both sides of the road outside the town all the way to Renjiaping Charging Station, the entrance into Beichuan.

Most of the shop owners and vendors are survivors who lost their fields and their jobs.

"I can only look forward since there is nothing to look back to," said Yu Shunfa, in his 40s, who lost eight family members and became the first vendor in the area last November.

"I come here today to tell my mom that dad, sister and I will live a better life. I miss her and I will often come to see her," said Zheng Chengrong, a student who returned from a vocational college in Mianyang. Zheng's younger sister studies at Beichuan Middle School. Construction of the new school will begin tomorrow.

"I wish my sister can study hard to enter the senior high school," Zheng said. "My mom would be very happy then if she knew that."

Cheng Piyi and Huang Guiqiong, a couple who lost their daughter, brought their 16-month-old son.

"We wish she could see the flowers," Cheng said. "When our son grows up, we will tell him that he had a sister who liked him very much."

A new county seat is being built 23 kilometers from the former one.

According to the local government, the new Beichaun will have 58,000 residents in 2010 and 110,000 in 2020.


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