An elevated view of the earthquake site is seen in Beichuan, Sichuan province, China on Thursday. The whole countryside was closed off on Tuesday after official warnings of fresh tremors.AP photo
BEICHUAN, China — China has decided not to rebuild the largest town destroyed in this month’s savage earthquake and might instead leave the town’s towers of rubble as a memorial park in place for generations of awe-stricken visitors to witness.
Tucked in a steep river valley atop the unstable Longmen Fault, this onetime town of 20,000 people is in too vulnerable a location to rebuild, officials said.
“Experts say the only option is to move the town and keep the remains,” said Zhang Jie, press spokesman for Mianyang municipality, which oversees this town.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, will make a final decision on whether to turn Beichuan into a memorial by the end of the month, Zhang said.
He added that survivors of the quake in Beichuan have been relocated to the nearby cities of Mianyang and Anxian and will not be permitted to return to their former home. Soldiers already guard entry to the ruined city, barring access due to fears of infection and concern that a river blocked by landslides above the town, forming two lakes, may suddenly burst, letting a deluge down the valley.
Of Beichuan’s former inhabitants, about 8,600 are known to have died and another 5,894 are considered missing. The rest appear to have survived.
State media have reported that residents who lost property in the city, and in other quake-devastated areas, will receive some compensation and subsidies but the specific amounts have not been released.
China won’t be the first country to seal off a town devastated by natural disaster.
In 1985, a volcanic eruption melted an icecap on an Andean peak, triggering a mudslide that buried the town of Armero in Colombia, killing 23,000 people. The site of the buried town was later declared “holy ground” and turned into a commemorative park.
A huge memorial at Beichuan might be a fitting tribute to a calamity that is likely to be seen by historians as a watershed moment for China, an event that saw the nation mobilize in massive numbers to help the victims and embrace an emotional patriotism that at times seems feverish.
As of Thursday, the quake’s death toll stood at 51,151, with another 29,358 people missing. Some 4,000 children were left orphaned by the disaster.