Sichuan earthquake, 10 years on

Tourists watching re-enactment of 2008 Sichuan quake when latest disaster struck

Audience members initially thought jolts were part of the show

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 August, 2017, 8:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 August, 2017, 10:27am

Tourists in the southwestern Sichuan province on Wednesday recounted how they were watching a re-enactment of a catastrophic quake that hit the region in 2008 when the latest disaster struck.

The audience at a theatre in the scenic Jiuzhaigou area – near the epicentre of Tuesday night’s magnitude 7 earthquake – initially thought the jolts were part of the performance, Anhui resident Yuan Hejie told Xinan News.

The gala show was telling the story of the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that devastated the province’s Wenchuan county nine years ago, leaving more than 69,000 people dead.

It had already featured sound effects and smoke, Yuan said, and it took the audience some time before they realised the shaking was from a real earthquake happening at that moment and not a special effect. When they realised what was happening, everyone fled from the theatre, she said.

Tour guide Yu Wenchao, who was also watching the show, told Shanghai news portal that after the earthquake, the car park outside the hotel where they were staying was crowded with people who then spent the night there, sheltering in buses and tents, after part of the building collapsed. There were more than 2,500 guests staying at the hotel, and 1,100 staff.

“It was very cold, about 10 degrees Celsius,” Yu said.

An intern with the Songcheng Performance Development Co, which was staging the theatre show, was killed in the earthquake, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Others managed to escape with minor injuries. Zhu Yongbo, who works in Ningbo, and his wife Li Ya were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary over dinner at the same hotel where Yu was staying when they were jolted by the quake.

Li took shelter under the table when the wall next to them came down. Zhu tried to use his body to protect her but was hit by a piece of falling rubble, leaving a 10cm gash on his head.

They had the chance to get on the first bus to leave the hotel when help arrived, but they insisted on waiting. “Many strangers helped us, putting their own lives in danger, and kept us safe and warm. We didn’t mind being the last ones to leave,” Li said.

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She added that they were touched by the help they received from an elderly woman who offered them clothes and a bus driver who gave them shoes. Hotel chefs tended to Zhu’s wound and carried him outside, she said, while a firefighter went back into the building to get their identity papers.

Weng Qingwei, from the city of Zigong in the south of the province, wasn’t so lucky. He said his heart “died immediately” when he saw the collapsed wall where his daughter had been playing with friends outside a different hotel shortly before the earthquake, according to a report in The Beijing News.

Weng, who also experienced the 2008 quake, had taken 10-year-old Wen Yuhan to the scenic area for the cool weather, and so that she could complete a travel journal for a school project.

He said he ran to the wall, calling his daughter’s name. She was found minutes later, covered in blood and taken to hospital where she was declared dead.

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At a hotel in a hot springs area 2km away, another tourist, surnamed Jia, said he ran outside wearing only a bathrobe when the shaking began. His hotel, where some 300 people were staying, remained standing and none of the guests were injured.