Wenchuan Earthquake: 10 years on

Hu Yijing China Plus Published: 2018-05-12 08:43:52
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Today marks the anniversary of the magnitude 8.0 earthquake that hit Wenchuan County in southwest China's mountainous Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008. 

Wenchuan Earthquake: 10 years on

Flowers are placed in front of a monument for the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Yingxiu Township in Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, on Monday, April 30, 2018. [Photo: VCG]

The quake claimed more than 70,000 lives and left 18,000 missing. Around 130,000 military personnel took part in the search and rescue effort that followed.

In the ten years since the disaster, the damaged homes have been rebuilt. But what about the lives affected by trauma?

Here are the stories of some of the people whose lives were changed forever that day.

Cheng Qiang

Wenchuan Earthquake: 10 years on

Photo at the top shows 12-year-old Cheng Qiang holding a banner above his head that says "I will become a paratrooper when I grow up," as he sees airborne troops off after their rescue work following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Photo at the bottom shows Cheng, now a paratrooper with the People's Liberation Army, undergoing training. [Photo: China Plus]

The day the earthquake hit Wenchuan County, 12-year-old Cheng Qiang had skipped school to go swimming in his hometown Shifang, a city 40 kilometers away from the epicenter. 

By skipping class, he escaped being buried in his collapsed school.

Cheng recalls that communications were interrupted after the quake. Local survivors fell into desperation, not knowing what to do. 

It was into this chaos and destruction that People's Liberation Army paratroopers entered Cheng's hometown on the day after the quake. Their arrival marked the start of a massive rescue, relief, and reconstruction effort.

Wenchuan Earthquake: 10 years on

Troops with the People's Liberation Army parachute into the quake-hit area on Wednesday, May 14, 2008. It was the first time China's paratroopers participated in an earthquake relief operation in a mountainous area with no ground support, no established landing ground, and no meteorological data. [File Photo: IC]

The soldiers wearing helmets with the words "Airborne Soldier" and carrying their flag identifying them as "Former troops of Huang Jiguang (a Chinese hero of the Korean War)," left an indelible impression on Cheng. 

"At that time, I saw paratroopers and relief supplies falling from the sky, and thought it was so cool," said Cheng.

Over three months later, when the troops finished their mission and prepared to leave, Cheng was in the crowd seeing the soldiers off. Above his head he held a banner: "I will become a paratrooper when I grow up."

"I didn't want to let them go. It was like saying goodbye to a family member. It was just a small dream that I hoped to become someone like them in the future," Cheng told China Daily.

Photographers who were there that day captured the image of Cheng with his banner, and the touching image quickly went viral online.

Years later, Cheng Qiang fulfilled his dream when he joined the army in 2013 and became a paratrooper. 

Wenchuan Earthquake: 10 years on

Cheng Qiang joined the army in 2013 and became a paratrooper. He was appointed the 38th leader of the historic Huang Jiguang Squad in 2017. [File Photo: 81.cn]

Because of his outstanding performance, Cheng was appointed the 38th leader of the historic Huang Jiguang Squad in 2017.

While in the army, Cheng met an officer who was in his hometown during the Wenchuan recovery mission. 

"From the path I'm walking on now, I can see traces of his experience," said Cheng.

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