Coping with life 3 years after deadly earthquake

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am


They have tried to heal their wounds and move on, but life remains a struggle for those scarred by the massive earthquake that killed more than 87,000 people in Sichuan three years ago tomorrow.

Their joy at being rescued paled next to having to cope with the thought of the injured or the loss of loved ones.

He Chuntao, 25, does not go out unless she must. She was pulled from the rubble two days after the Shifang chemical factory where she was working collapsed, but doctors had to amputate both her legs above the knee.

Of the more than 360,000 people injured by the quake, about 5,900 were left permanently disabled.

'I don't want to go out,' she said. 'I still feel awkward going out. I don't want people to stare at me.'

He moved from her home in Guangan to the provincial capital Chengdu for rehabilitation. She is now in a centre in Deyang for training on how to use her prosthetic legs, something she has had problems with.

She lives on a small allowance provided by the factory where she used to work. She has also opened an online shop to sell clothes.

'It takes time but there is a long road ahead,' she said.

Chen Zhixiu, a 57-year-old street cleaner in Yingxiu township, does not even want to think about the future.

Her son was killed by the earthquake, leaving her to take care of his eight-year-old daughter. Her son was divorced before the earthquake.

'I miss my son every day. He was only 29,' Chen said. 'Now my life is about my granddaughter.'

That life is now harder because the mountain land she owned to raise pigs was ruined and she is too far from Yingxiu to benefit from the town's rebuilding as a tourist attraction.

She is glad to have a job but is worried it will not last.

'We can tell it's not a permanent job and I don't want to think about where I will find money in the future,' Chen said. 'I'm old and uneducated. I'm not popular in the job market. What will I do?'

Even those relatively untouched by the quake have still needed time to recover from the trauma.

Yang Shuang, a second-year high school student, said it has taken her three years to begin to find peace of mind. She was in a physics class when the quake flattened the Beichuan Middle School. Yang was rescued but the school lost more than 1,300 students and teachers.

'It's impossible to leave those memories behind,' she said. 'I've had nightmares and dreams about those students.'

She continued her studies in a temporary school after being treated for spinal injuries in a military hospital in Wuhan , before moving to the new Beichuan Middle School, built at a cost of 200 million yuan (HK$239 million).

Yang also sought help from psychiatrists who stayed in Beichuan to help survivors cope with the trauma.

'I talk to them and we play games,' she said. 'I told myself I needed to stop feeling low or think of the bad things and move on.

'It has been three years and it's in the past. I need to focus on the future, such as getting admitted by a university in Wuhan . I really liked the people there when I was being treated for my injury,' Yang said.

'I hope everything that should be forgotten is forgotten and everything that should be memorised in set in my memory.'