By Ikenna Emewu
Two years ago, at the eighth inauguration of the Wenchaun earthquake of May 12, 2008, just few months before China hosted the Beijing Olympic Games, I was in company of 28 African journalists that visited the memorial.
Disaster had struck at the rugged lands and jagged Himalayas reaches of South West China in the Sichaun Province.
And this time, for the 10 remembrance of the incident two days ago, Chinese president, Xi Jinping pledged that the country would do more to contain future disasters for the fact that China sits on the tectonic convulsion zone of the world that makes most parts of the country prone to such disasters.
Standing on the oval platform simulating the tremor of death and disaster in the belly of the tunnel in Wenchuan, that memorialize the calamity was simply sad.
On November 6, 2016 we paid a visit to the site.
But beyond the quake that hit the county and other parts of the province, Sichuan is one of the economic wonders of China, and home of the Apple gadgets that are assembled in China. It also hosts the world’s largest power company, Dongfang Electric Corporation as well as the world’s largest international rail port at the Dingbaijiang District of the city.
Gallery of tears
The gallery of tears is built at the crater created at the epicenter of the quake of 8.0m on the Richter scale. Scientists said the crater is exactly the point of greatest impact of the quake. The force that creates quakes is located underneath the earth surface and down at the subterranean spot, the point of impact is called the hypocenter, and above the hypocenter on the surface is the epicenter.
No doubt, most of the people that experienced the quake that day or had their loved ones buried in that disaster would not come close to that memorial. But standing there watching the simulation of the crumbling world, walls of the mountains and buildings and trees, and the heavy vibration of the platform that throws, staggers and jolts you amid the melee of the maze of the screen display on the wall round the dark cubicle makes one feel there was real earthquake going on. It is definitely not a sight or scene for the fainthearted, or a good recall for those that experienced it in real life.
However, all those were set up to give tourists the feel of the seismic belch and upset that swallowed down over 70,000 human beings and 18,000 others whose remains are still missing till date, and over 4.8 million displaced.
Disaster and sorrow were the fate of Wenchuan that fateful day when nature’s misstep and disorder hit China direct at the heart. It was 32 years after China had its worst earthquake in recorded history in Tangshan District of the Hebei Province in 1976 where the country lost over 260,000 people in the quake its 40th anniversary held July, 2016.
That phenomenal quake in Tangshan made the earlier worst seismic disaster that struck in Messina of the Sicily and Calabria regions of Italy on December 28, 1908 that had hitherto been the worst look little.
Wenchuan quake lasted just some 120 seconds and with over 70 aftershocks in 24 hours. It was during that short spell that it wrecked that havoc of monumental proportions and left the nation reeling deep in pains.
The surface beneath our feet is made of blocks or slabs of earth arranged end to end and all stand on a fluid mantle or core that facilitates its spin on its axis. Liken it to slices of bread laid out on your dining table and linked at the ends with each other by a form of lubrication like say butter in between the slices. These are called the tectonic plates and some number of them makes up the earth crust. At the points they meet, there is constant thermal or heat-facilitated hydraulic action. Whenever the rocking between the plates get violent or cook up undue heat, they could go into collision, cause a tilt of one below the other, an overlap or pulling apart from each other. Any of these result in earthquake. So earthquake occurs when two ends of the plates collide, or one slides below, as the simulation of the Wenchuan quakes showed to be the cause, or when the ends pull apart.
The slight jolt in Wenchuan caused calamities that fateful day. But the Chinese government and that of the Sichuan Province rose to the occasion to save the situation and provide succor to the victims even though the relics and scars of the disaster are still plastered all over Wenchuan. Climbing the steep slope to the epicenter museum, there is a road tunnel to the right that is barricaded from use at both ends close to the bank of a river. That tunnel was the road until the quake struck and the road had to be diverted.
Wenchuan is a strip of mountain ranges, a very rugged topography, the southern extension of the Himalayan mountains ranges that continues from Tibet. Of course, even the population of Wenchuan is made of a good percentage of Tibetans. So here, roads through tunnels in the belly of the mountains are very common and some of the tunnels were affected by the quake that threw down so many things, including vehicles that were on the roads when the quake struck. Among the relics displayed at the museum is a police vehicle mangled and beaten flat. Some many others were also involved as the exhibition has an ample cache of some of the pieces picked from the chaos including items from homes and personal effects of victims.
Down the valley overlooking the epicenter of the quake, life has returned to normal. There are hundreds of brand new homes for the natives constructed by the Chinese government to rehabilitate victims. And another park and mausoleum is set up among the residential quarters in the valley for the victims of the quake where the journalists and other tourists laid flowers at midday in the memory of the victims. It was a solemn brief celebration that triggers emotions.
The people ordinarily live like there was no such incident in the near past until one is told the story of what happened there and that the buildings – homes, shopping plazas, recreation parks and squares were built after the tremor by the government.
About 15km away from Wenchuan and towards the historic and antique city of Dujiangyan is a small town of Jiulong. The name means Nine Dragons. Dragons are positive mythical animals in Chinese myths and the people were affected by the quake with about 30% of the buildings thrown down. But the villagers were so happy that no lives were lost. However, they believe the nine dragons associated with their town saved them from overt calamity as I spoke with the natives on their survival.
A lot of them gathered at the front of their new homes built for them in resettlement quarters by the government after the quakes. They excitedly told the story of their survival and recalled how dreadful that day of disaster was.
Huang Lifei, 45, told me that on the day of the quake he was away in his farm with his wife and his little boy in school. Bad enough, the people of the town never heard of a history of any earthquake so they were all caught off guard by the incident.
He said confusion was the order in the town when the quake hit. He had to run back home to know what had become of their house, dashed to the village square to see his aged parents, ascertained that they were safe before heading off to the child’s school to fetch him. Also, his child and other school children who were in the care of the teachers, was safe too.
One after the other, the natives recalled how trauma and frenzy and confusion ran at fever pitch on the day of the incident and also expressed their gratitude to the governments of China for a quick rescue and rehabilitation that brought their lives back to normal.
Like yesterday never existed, the villagers of Jiulong and those of Wenchuan wear their smiles once again and praying that this angry visitor and agent of death never calls again.
Economic hot spot
This province irrespective of the disaster that called there years back still remains one of the success stories of China’s economy with so many firsts to her identity.
For eight days, the city of Chengdu, the capital of the province and the largest city in west China hosted its 16th annual Western China International Fair from November 5. China is a country of lopsided development and economic status with about 85% of its wealth concentrated in the east of the country occupying about 26% of the landmass. The population follows that same trend. But Chengdu and the entire province seem to be the only exception with Chengdu as the fourth largest city and the only one of the four mega cities in the west. It is about to have its second international airport after Beijing and China.
It was an opportunity to see the impetus of growth and standing of Sichuan the home of Apple gadgets. The Apple gadgets from China are made by the Foxconn Company owned by Taiwanese investors and has up to four plants in four cities of China. But its largest spot is in Shenzhen with Chengdu as the newest that came on two years ago with about 20,000 workers and highest production volume. It is an investment of $2b dollars that makes only iPad and Apple laptops. From here, they are exported to the Long Beach of Cupertino, California, USA where the owners of the brand are domiciled and some other countries around the world. So as you use your apple gadgets, you pay tribute to this city where the mills roll them out. In fact, 50% of all Apple gadgets from China come from Chengdu.
Beyond the Apple gadget plant, the Foxconn location is an industrial cluster zone with over 40 operational firms in the infotech mainly with HP, Dell, Intel and many others.
In this province, the Dongfang Power Company has been there since 1958 and starting with hydro power, today, it has expanded to solar, green energy, wind energy and nuclear energy. It has overseas contracts and power bases in 32 countries including eight in Africa with overseas economic value of $15b, and total power equipment energy value of 42,000MW in 2011, being the world highest in any single year.
The shortest way to describe Sichuan and Chengdu economic prosperity is that 316 of the top 500 world business corporations in the Fortune 500 List have business base here with 13 airports in the province of 99m people and 3 trillion RMB GDP last year.
However, the leadership of the province informed Daily Sun that irrespective of the prosperity of the zone, it still has 4 million poor people living in the very remote mountainous areas, and they have a plan to lift one million out of penury every year with a target to conclude the eradication of poverty in Sichuan in 2020.
Foxconn was plagued by a string of worker suicides at the factory in Shenzhen last year, prompting the company to raise up workers’ salaries. Eventually, Foxconn planned to shift the manufacture lines to other province of China, in order to increase the production level.
The city of Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan, is located at the southwest China. Last year August, Foxconn opened a new 2-billion-U.S.-dollar plant over there. With the help from the inland governments and officials, the new facotry take only about two months plus to build up and start to produce iPad. At the mean time, there is about 20,000 workers in Chengdu’s factory. Today, an explosion occurred at the factory, so this is the right time to let everyone know about the inside story of this newest Foxconn’s manufacture plant…
Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contractor, opened a new production plant in southwest China’s Chengdu, to manufacture laptop computers including Apple’s iPad. Investment for the first phase of the plant stands at 299 million dollars, with total investment due to reach 2 billion dollars when the second and third stages of construction are complete. Worker compensation and benefits will be similar to Shenzhen’s plant, but the salary will be adjusted according to local prices. It is expected that the industrial base project of Foxconn (Chengdu) will motivate many complementary enterprises to settle in that place so as to create over 100,000 new jobs for Chengdu, and the IT industrial structure in Chengdu will undergo a ‘great leap’.