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China still grappling with 2008 quake

A year after the Sichuan earthquake, the grief and desperation of the tragedy still haunts the survivors of the magnitude 8.0 tremor

AFP

Visitors walk between crosses made from the remains of houses destroyed in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

AFP

A woman places a flower in the devastated town of Beichuan in China’s earthquake ravaged Sichuan province on Sunday.

BEICHUAN, CHINA
Gong Guilin lost both his legs in last year's massive Sichuan earthquake. Now he dreams of becoming a Paralympic tennis player.

One year after the quake struck, hope is slowly returning to Gong's life, as it is for millions of other survivors, but for many the will to move on is mixed with a sense of indelible grief.

"I like tennis best, but I play basketball and like riding the bike," Gong, 20, said, showing off his new artificial legs.

"My goal is to go to college. I want to participate in the All-China Handicapped Games and then advance to the international Paralympics."

But on the eve of the first anniversary of the quake, the tragedy still haunts the survivors of the 8.0-magnitude quake in this mountainous region in southwest China's Sichuan province.

Nearly 87,000 people were killed or left unaccounted for when the quake struck a region the size of South Korea, in the worst natural disaster in China in over 30 years.

In Beichuan town, the worst hit area where about 20,000 people were killed or reported missing, weeping survivors trickled into the once bustling hub over the weekend to pay respects to their loved ones.

Authorities had largely kept Beichuan town under lock and key due to the vast destruction wreaked by the earthquake, but ahead of the first anniversary thousands of former residents have been allowed to return to mourn their dead.

For four days since Sunday, survivors have been allowed to return to perform traditional Chinese rites. Most go to the places where they believe their loved ones died. The sound of wailing relatives drifts through the air.

Throughout the devastated and rubble-strewn town, where even the buildings left standing are on the verge of collapse, mourners bow in prayer, burn paper money and incense and set off firecrackers to scare off evil spirits.

The destruction has been so widespread that the government has decided not to rebuild Beichuan, but instead is planning to turn the town into an earthquake museum.

In the quake zone, those with intact homes and with families are gradually building new lives, but the weakest victims still need help.

Few places have offered more hope than the Hong Kong-funded Stand Tall rehabilitation program that specialises in artificial limbs and physical therapy at the Sichuan People's Hospital in the provincial capital Chengdu.

"When our patients first came here they were at emotional lows. They had lost hope, but after they saw the facilities and the technology, they quickly improved," Cai Li, vice head of the hospital said.

"Now they see they have the ability to re-enter society as normal people and they know that we will help them." AFP

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