First anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake in China

from Government of the United Kingdom
Published on 12 May 2009 View Original
Today Nick Whittingham, our Consul General in Chongqing, writes:

A year has swept by and the world has changed. A financial crisis swept away the economic optimism of early 2008. Swine flu has supplanted bird flu as a global threat. But for the millions of people caught up in the tragic Sichuan Earthquake this news can feel trivial. They continue to harbour feelings of loss for those they lost and continued shock at the power of nature. How can current affairs matter when their lives was literally ripped apart at 2.28 p.m. on 12 May 2008? For them, the post-earthquake world has changed far less.

Following the disaster, I entered the earthquake zone to track down missing British people. Memories of the massive landslides, ruined towns and injured refugees continue to evoke strong feelings. I still remember toys, furniture and shoes scattered in collapsed buildings - items whose owners were often buried beneath. When talking about a journey I made towards Yingxiu (near the epicentre), a lump of emotion can still thicken my voice.

When I remember the efforts of the rescue workers, I feel admiration. I remember sharing a bus with policemen leaving the disaster area after many days of rescue efforts, their faces exhausted and shocked by what they had seen. Many had bandaged limbs ? injuries sustained during their efforts to save others. I watched scores of soldiers distributing aid and shelter to survivors. And I saw young volunteers hitchhiking along the damaged roads in search of people to help. Other hitchhikers were people returning home, unsure who or what they would find.

The names of towns I had never heard of one year ago now hold a special significance and are firmly etched in my memory. Beichuan, Dujiangyan, Mianzhu, Wenchuan - these are just some of the places that I associate with the tragic sights of one year ago. But I also associate them with the energy and fortitude of the survivors. During visits over the past year to some of these towns I have seen flimsy temporary shelters replaced by tents. These tents have then upgraded with prefabricated buildings. I have seen communities rebuild themselves, businesses emerge and people look to the future.

One year has passed. The reconstruction effort has made great strides in that time. Survivors are rebuilding their lives. But today, at 2.28 p.m. on 12 May 2009, my thoughts will return to the owners of the toys, furniture and shoes who never emerged from their concrete tombs.