Memories of Sichuan earthquake drill hard into township school

A school where 54 students and teachers were among the thousands who died is determined to ensure that it has learnt from the tragedy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 May, 2013, 5:47am

A class of third-year students at a middle school in Yingxiu township in Sichuan province were reviewing their exam papers yesterday when an ear-piercing alarm sounded across the campus.

The students quickly squatted by their desks and held books above their heads. Some giggled and popped their heads up to see what was going on, only to be told off by their teacher, who stood near the blackboard and watched over the class.

About a minute later, another alarm sounded, and students at Qiyi Yingxiu Middle School leapt to their feet and hustled out of their classrooms. The corridor filled with students moving towards the nearest stairs. Some teachers stood in the stairwell and warned children to watch their steps and move in a more orderly manner.

There was no emergency - it was only a drill at the school, which was built after Xuankou Middle School was destroyed by the devastating earthquake on May 12, 2008. Fifty-four students and teachers died in the school's collapse.

The new campus opened in March 2011 after students from the area were sent to attend school in neighbouring counties.

Today, it has students from 13 townships, including survivors from Xuankou Middle School and Yingxiu Primary School, where 294 students out of more than 500 were officially killed by the quake, though the actual death toll is believed to be higher.

Qiyi Yingxiu Middle School has held two emergency drills annually since opening - one for earthquakes and one for fire - according to principal Xiong Zuofu .But Xiong was not satisfied with yesterday's drill, so he told the students to repeat it.

He voiced his concern that some of them did not take the drill seriously, and that "many students slowed down once they exited the building". He stressed to them the importance of continuing to move quickly into open areas, as the building could still collapse in a quake and injure people nearby.

However, the second drill pleased him. "This is a very special day for us," Xiong said. "Eighty-three students asked for leave to go home for tomb-sweeping. Very few students from the Yingxiu Primary School survived and made it to middle school."

One of those survivors was Wang Guangxing , now 16 and in his third year at Qiyi Middle School. He participated in the drill but declined to comment on how he, as a quake survivor, felt about the drill.

"When I woke up in the debris, my right arm was already broken," he recalled, adding that he used his left hand to dig his way out. "I saw my desk mate on the way, and he asked me to get help after I was rescued, but he died before the rescuers could dig him out.

"I visit the public cemetery every year. Sometimes I feel that I was lucky, but other times I wonder why such a tragedy happened to us."