Sichuan earthquake facts - travel tips and resources for volunteers


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This article provides readers with information of the two recent earthquakes in Sichuan, the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake and the 2013 Lushan Earthquake. It helps to inform you on the following matters: the status of disaster relief efforts; Sichuan Earthquakes facts; the impact left behind; lessons that people learned; how's overseas volunteers helping out; Where to go if you want to visit Sichuan and check out for yourself.

Sichuan Today Years After the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

Sichuan Earthquake recovery Wenchuan - Yingxiu Town
2008 Sichuan Earthquake - Yingxiu Town - Rebuilt in 2011
2013 marked the 5 year anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. Media’s attentions to the havoc left behind by the earthquake are starting to fade through time naturally. The catastrophic event forever changing the lives of millions, however, is permanently etched in people's memories.

Today, Sichuan has seen more travelers than ever coming back. It is a top travel destination for many to take a closer look at its people’s lives, rich history and booming economy.

The once shattered epicenter Wenchuan in 2008 Sichuan Earthquake is now a popular tourist attraction site packed with people. Once again we can see students sitting in their classroom, learning and playing around. Most members of the Qiang ethnic minority groups in this region are working hard to support their families by small businesses which are doing well. 

Life seems normal again for most people affected by the deadly earthquake in 2008. One exception is the touching story of a heartbreaking mother. It is widely shared in China, and I'm sure you will be deeply moved as well.

On May 12, 2008, an earthquake of massive scale rocked Sichuan, the southwestern province of China, a beautiful land known as the heavenly kingdom. Five years later on April 20, 2013, another earthquake, named the Lushan earthquake battered Ya’an city, 115 km. (72 mi.) from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.

Lu Jingkang, a 50 year-old mother from Ya'an, was working in Chengdu back when the Wenchuan earthquake happened in 2008. Though 172 km. (107 mi.) from the epicenter Wenchuan, Ya'an was badly damaged in the earthquake.

Grabbed a phone, she immediately called her family back in Ya’an. There was no answer on the phone as telecommunication were either heavily jammed or totally broken at that time. She was able to take a bus home shortly afterwards, and relieved at the sight of her house. It did not collapse, so she thought her family was not badly hurt; and they were at that time.

To her great agony, she learned from her son’s colleague later that day that her beloved son was killed in one of the following aftershocks. Her heart was broken. Her son was married for one year and had a two-month old daughter named Qingqing.

For the following five years, she never really recovered herself from the pain. Her only comfort was her daughter Yue who had supported her all the way. Yue was attending high school and a top student among her class. Her dream was to become an English teacher.

Yue’s life came to a stop in 2013 when the Lushan Earthquake stroked Sichuan.

No one can truly imagine the pain that the poor mother has been through. Having lost her 23 year-old son Lu Linxu in wenchuan earthquake, she lost her 17 year-old daughter Yue Yushan in Lushan earthquake five years later. Heartbreaking is an understatement. The mother has been devastated. Fate has being way too tough on her.

While Yue’s story is a shaking exception, the majority of earthquake victims are recovering better from the tragedy thanks to help and support from home and abroad. As a matter of fact, most countries where WindhorseTour's clients come from have contributed a lot in the disaster relief and rebuilding process. To name just a few, The United States, The United Kingdom, Spain, Singapore, Germany, France and Japan.

WindhorseTour staff are very grateful for you who have helped us rebuild our homes. Your continuous support is greatly appreciated. Your help matters! 

Sichuan Earthquake 2008

Wenchuan 2008 Sichuan Earthquake Epicenter
Wenchuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

The Sichuan earthquake is also known as the Great Sichuan Earthquake and Wenchuan earthquake. It is referred to in China as “5.12”. Key earthquake facts includes 69,195 were killed and 18,392 were missing, of which 5,335 were students. 11 Million were left homeless. The catastrophic Wenchuan earthquake measured at a magnitude of 8.0 on the richter scale and was felt by people thousands of miles away - even in Japan, Philippines and Pakistan. It plunged the whole nation into deep agony, and grabbed the heart of the entire world.

Countless aftershocks kept rattling people and taking their tolls in Sichuan (There were more than 10,000 of them!). The epicenter of Sichuan earthquake is Yingxiu town in Wenchuan, 80 km. (50 mi.) northwest of Chengdu. Wenchuan has been a popular stop for visitors driving along the highway from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou over the decade.

More Sichuan Earthquake Facts:

 The epicenter was in Yingxiu, a small town in the mountainous region of Wenchuan. The main tremor occurred at 14:28:01.42 on May 12, 2008. It lasted for around 2 minutes, causing casualties in 98 cities and counties while destroying 80% of buildings in the quake. The total amount of donations from home and abroad were 659.96 CNY (108.32 USD), with 107.16 CNY (17.59USD) worth of materials according to the official statistics in April, 2009.

Sichuan Earthquake 2013

When people in Sichuan were well in their way to recover from their grief, another earthquake jolted the land. Five years after the deadly Wenchuan earthquake, on April 20, Lushan earthquake at the magnitude of 7.0 ripped through Sichuan and rattled the nation once again. The epicenter was located in Lushan County, Ya'an, Sichuan, about 116 km. (72 mi.) from Chengdu. The death toll of Lushan earthquake was significantly less than the previous one - 196 people died, 24 missing, at least 11,826 injured. This can be attribute to the less intensity of the earthquake as well as better preparation towards it. 

Disaster Relief Efforts and Problems of Wenchuan Earthquake

Disaster relief work was carried out by the government and countless vuleteers.

The combined efforts of millions of individuals were massive. Numerous People became volunteers and were organized by the government to help out. Countless others worked independently. They picked up victims in their own cars, donated money, blood, tents, and all kinds of daily necessities. They learnt to console those bereaved. They forwarded people’s SOS information on social media. People around the world were voicing and praying for these victims.

2008 Sichuan Earthquake Victimes Candle Memorial
Candle memorial for 2008 Sichuan Earthquake victimes
The government had dispatched hundreds of helicopters, tens of thousands of soldiers and policemen to rescue those trapped as roads were either blocked or broken in the earthquake. International rescue teams from six countries ventured into the front line together with Chinese ones.

The Chinese government offered huge financial support to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake - the government spent $441 billion on relief and reconstruction efforts.

Every other provinces in China were connected with one county of Sichuan to help rebuild and develop the local economy. As a result, homes had been rebuilt to provide permanent shelter to people. Schools had been reconstructed. Townships in the the most devastated areas had been relocated.

While disaster relief efforts were all channeled to help those affected, problems were rising. Chaos was observed in volunteer work carried out by citizens, as they lack proper training. The unfortunate fact was reported that some people were stealing from the donated money and materials.

One Relief Effort by a NGO:

Rotary International which is the governing body for 34,282 Rotary Clubs and its 1.2 million members worldwide. It is an international service organization dedicated to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world by bring together business and professional leaders. There are 34,282 clubs and over 1.2 million members worldwide.

Shelter box donated by Rotary International
A Shelter Box donated by Rotary International.

In 2008, Rotary Internatioal responded quickly by providing over 1,000 shelter boxes with help from Rotary Club of Shanghai. Bill Chiang, an honorary member of Rotary Club of Shanghai and other Rotarians helped to bring the Rotary shelter box to the 5 million people made homeless by the Sichuan Earthquake.

A shelter box contains almost all equipment essential for survival. The only comment they received was that they should include chopsticks in the box.

Impact of and Reflections on the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

Experts estimated that at least 10 years are needed for Sichuan to fully recover from the destructive Wenchuan earthquake. Economic losses are recoverable, whereas trauma on people's lives and mental state may never easy or be erased.

Reflections on why Sichuan earthquake brought such casualties and damages are ongoing in terms of infrastructure and preparation.

Preparation means people’s alertness and proper education beforehand. Previously Sichuan and earthquakes do not go together. That's what Sichuan people thought before the tragic disaster on May 12, 2008. People were thoroughly unprepared for such an earthquake as the last earthquake of this magnitude happened several generations ago.

Both children and adults did not know what to do to better protect themselves under such emergency. The lack of proper alertness, knowledge, and practice about earthquake survival are therefore believed to have contributed to the tragedy.

2013 Sichaun Earthquake Soldiers Saving Victims
Another major factor that was avoidable was the poor infrastructure of Sichuan. Almost all mud-brick houses collapsed in heavy stricken cities around Wenchuan County. Some school buildings did not meet the national standard, but somehow passed the verification process. Roads in mountainous regions were easily destroyed, making some villages literally isolated islands in high seas.

The shadow casted by these horrible experience, however, is not likely to disappear within five years. Many are reported to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder in the wake of these natural disasters. People often stampede out of buildings in aftershocks. Stories of students jumping out of their dormitories were in the news.

Lessons Learned from the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

People have learned hard lessons from the 2008 earthquake. Here's some examples:

Schools are teaching students necessary knowledge to protect themselves under disasters like fire, flood, and earthquake. Periodical practice of evacuation are carried out nationwide. Emergency shelters with clear signs are constructed in cities and towns. Volunteers are better trained to help out.

New standards of buildings and verification procedures have been put in place. Existing buildings are checked and reinforced. Infrastructures are strengthened - roads and telecommunication cables. Better construction materials are used for housing. Earthquake-resistant buildings become many people’s first choice when they buy houses.

As a result, better organization of rescue campaign and volunteering work in disaster relief efforts were observed in the recent Sichuan Lushan earthquake in Ya'an on April 20, 2013. It was reported that none of the buildings built since the 2008 Sichuan earthquakes collapsed.

Furthermore, people have a changing attitudes towards life now. They learn to cherish their friends and family, as well as their own lives. Similar change of people’s attitude was observed in the 1923 Tokyo earthquake. They spend more quality time with their friends and family instead of busy making money all year around; they take vacations and visit different places; they are more tolerant to others and considerate; they become more generous in giving and buying. As a matter of fact, many suspect that it is contributing to China’s growing tourist volume and spending in recent years.

sophomore in Sichuan Normal University named Lulu, is a survivor in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. She was a middle school student in Dujiangyan, one heavily stricken zone. Almost all her classmates and friends were dead on that day as the classroom collapsed.

She recalled her experience rather calmly, saying that she would never have the courage to be herself, and do things like what she has been doing now. She is currently an active member of a school club.

All in all, people are rebuilding a better future from the debris. Today, Sichuan people are much better prepared in the face of natural disasters, and independent travelers have been returning in huge numbers since 2010 to visit many of these places and more now.

How Travelers Are Helping People Recover from Sichuan Earthquakes

The recovering process from the earthquake is promising, though hard indeed. They still need your help however, to make the process faster and less painful.

Clients ask us how they can help with the rebuilding efforts. You can donate money to the victims. There is one noted NGO started by a local entrepreneur in Chengdu. It is fully licensed with 100% of donation goes directly into victims.

Sichuan Quake Relief T-shirt.
Sichuan Quake Relief (SQR) is a non-profit, humanitarian organization dedicated to improve the lives of those affected by the 12 May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

The best way to help, however, is simply to visit Sichuan, a land abundant in breathtaking natural scenery and distinct cultures. Your presence will give people great comfort as they know somebody care about them. Your traveling and purchasing can help support the local economy. Visiting Sichuan enables you to check with your own eyes on how things are going in those disaster stricken zones.

Located at southeastern China, Sichuan boasts rich tourist attractions. The most famous ones are UNESCO world heritage sites - the Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Park in the north. The epicenter Wenchuan county of the 2008 earthquake has been a popular stop for overseas visitors on their China tour to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Park.

Wenchuan is a small county with multi-ethnic groups. Located at the southeast end of Sichuan Aba Prefecture, it connects the beautiful grasslands of Zoige (Ruoergai in Chinese) with the lush forests of Dujiangyan. Though heavily ravaged by the deadly earthquake, it has restored its looks in cities and towns, and endowed with unspoiled natural wonders.

Popular attractions in and around Wenchuan include the Wolong Nature Reserve (you can see giant panda here), and ethnic minority Qiang people’s stone watchtowers. Popular gifts include the panda souvenirs and handicrafts made by Qiang people.

As the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu is known as the city of leisure and Gastronomy. People are more poised to enjoy what life has to offer. Teahouses, snack bars and restaurants are almost seen at every corner. Plus, it has thousands of years’ history for you to explore.

The first choice of overseas travelers is a stop at the Chengdu Panda Base. Spend a day as a volunteer with the most adorable yet endangered animal is a fantastic experience for many. Other popular attractions nearby Chengdu includes Dujiangyan Irrigation System and Mount Qingcheng etc.. You can find many more in our Sichuan attractions page.

Popular activities in Chengdu including watching Sichuan Opera, eating hot pot with friends, and shopping for gifts. Sichuan embroidery, brocade, lacquer art along with numerous artful crafts are recommended for you.

Chengdu Panda Base Volunteer - WindhorseTour clients
WindhorseTour clients as volunteers in Chengdu Panda Base
Another one day attraction is the Leshan Grand Buddha. Being the largest sculpture in the world, it has been inscribed into the list of world Heritage. The height of the Buddha sculpture is 71 m. (233 ft.). People are just as tall as his toes. You can take a boat along the river to take a panoramic view of the grand sculpture.

Though badly damaged in the recent 2013 Sichuan earthquake, Ya’an is still a great place to visit. It’s Bifengxia Panda Base is renown to many. Besides getting close to baby panda in the base, Bifengxia is also an awesome place for trekking, with waterfalls and mysterious hanging coffins in the cliffs.

Final Advice and Travel Tips For Visiting Sichuan

With international flights connecting Chengdu and most countries directly, it makes Chengdu an ideal entry city for visiting China. From here you can travel to other parts of Sichuan and China by air and railways. WindhorseTour encourages clients to blend into the local people. The key to do this is to have local licensed guides on all tours. They are part of the key to for you to talk to the survivors for their stories and lives.

When you travel to Sichuan, please tell your travel advisor if you would like to visit earthquake stricken regions. This is to make sure that you will have enough time to explore. Please be prudent in term of asking people about their stories. Chances are it might bring up painful memories about these earthquakes. Other than that, just  and have a great time!

The WindhorseTour Team invites you to share with us your comments on what you were doing when the Wenchuan Earthquake struck on May 12, 2008, and Lushan Earthquake on April 20, 2013.

Thank you for supporting the Sichuan people! - Plan Your Sichuan Visit Today!

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