For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year, two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:
Storm warnings that work — a lesson from Sandy
Hard questions for Breezy Point homeowners a year after Sandy
Learning to shout after the Fukushima disaster
Disaster Candy in Japan
When the high ground isn’t high enough
Signs of commerce return to “The Town That Disappeared”
A panda baby boom, five years after Sichuan earthquake
Come to the village of Yingxiu and see the elaborate carved gateway, the food stalls, souvenir shops and credentialed performers dressed as a cheeky monkey and a cuddly panda. It is the quintessential tourist town, ringed by mountains and at the confluence of two rivers. You also can leave the main street to see this community’s past, when the clocks stopped at 2:28 p.m. on May 12, 2008.
That was when a monster earthquake heaved almost directly beneath Yingxiu, killing about 70,000 people in and around China’s Sichuan province. Of those, 6,566 died in this formerly bustling factory town, more than one-third of its pre-earthquake population. Eighty percent of the buildings were destroyed.
One poignant reminder of the tragedy remains: a memorial to the 54 students, teachers and parents who died when the local school collapsed on itself. Pilgrims bring yellow flowers to place below a giant clock face, with fissures to indicate the time of the quake more than five years ago.