A town frozen in time

THE BOOKS were open at the same page in Chenjiaba primary school, frozen in time a week after China’s devastating earthquake turned this once-thriving place into a ghost town.­

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Published: Tue 20 May 2008, 11:52 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:39 PM

A total of 723 children were present at the school on the day of the quake, according to the meticulous count kept on a blackboard in the school yard.­

The classrooms had been hastily vacated when the quake started sending cracks down the walls at 2:28 pm (0628 GMT) on Monday, May 12.­

Thirty grade one students were studying art at the time of the disaster and no one has disturbed their classroom since.­

Textbooks show they were learning to draw images of the sun when the quake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale struck China’s southwest Sichuan province.­

Mu Zhuxiang, one of the children, had left her workbook open. There was a drawing dated May 8, four days before the quake. It showed flowers, cats and a huge butterfly.­

Another had recently celebrated her birthday. Several English books had childish drawings of a birthday cake and the words ‘Happy birthday, Mu Xiaohua’. The cake had eight candles.­

At a nearby restaurant, the pages of a calendar had been torn off until May 12, the day of the tremor.­

Few signs of human life were visible in the wreckage of the city of 10,000 people who fled en masse a week ago.­

The few locals left in the city said about 500 people died, but most of the children survived. They were lucky, because thousands across the province were crushed to death when their schools collapsed on top of them.­

“This place used to be crowded with people,” said Tang Tianwei, a driver on his way through the picturesque mountains from Jiangyou to Beichuan, both cities near the epicentre of the quake.­

“The town was doing quite well. The farmers were making good money, and others worked in the big cities and sent money home.”­

Chenjiaba’s main street was lined by collapsed shops that had received such a violent impact from the quake that their products — shoes, electrical fans, medicine boxes — had been thrown out onto the road.­

“This is so different now,” said a young worker, looking shell-shocked as he wandered past the devastation. He was on his way to his home in the mountains to look for his parents.­

As he left the village, he passed by a roadblock manned by members of the People’s Armed Police, who checked his and anyone else’s belongings to prevent looting.­

In the absence of human life, the town has been taken over by animals.­

Chickens cackled happily as they picked through leftovers in a restaurant.­

In shops and restaurants, the buzzing of flies was everywhere where food had been left behind.­

A family of tailors returned to Chenjiaba from their shelter in the nearby city of Mianyang, hoping to salvage just a little of their stock of textiles, so they could restart their business. They were not too hopeful.­

“We had no insurance and anyway it’s doubtful the government will allow us to build here any more. Now it’s a confirmed danger area, said one of the tailors, 30-year-old Ren Liang.­

“This has been my home for 35 years, said Xi Chengyong, a 58-year-old woman. …I want to go back, but it will never be the same.­

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