China to open Sichuan quake areas to tourists

BEIJING: Chinese authorities said today they would open areas devastated by last year’s Sichuan earthquake to tourists as the region struggles to recover from the natural disaster, state media reported.

Nearly 87,000 people were killed or left missing in the May 12 magnitude 8.0 earthquake that left millions homeless and unemployed in China’s mountainous southwest region.

“There is a huge tourism market in the ruins one year after the quake,” Xinhua news agency quoted Wu Mian, deputy director of Sichuan’s tourism bureau, as saying. “We cannot block the tourists out. We also hope the tourists watch their behaviour and not hurt the feelings of quake survivors.” Officials hope that increased tourism will help spur rebuilding efforts in the area, it said. The first sites to open will include schools, bridges, factories and streets in the cities of Dujiangyan, Pengzhou, Mianzhu and Guangyuan as well as Yingxiu Township at the epicentre of the quake, Wu said. He did not say when the sites would be officially opened, but authorities allowed people into some of the many sites during the period around the first anniversary of the quake.

Other sites, such as the Donghekou Earthquake Relics Park, have been open to the public for months. The park sits atop a landslide that buried Donghekou village killing all but 300 of the village’s 1,400 inhabitants. The park has received 260,000 tourists since it opened in November last year, the report said.

Beichuan county seat, one of the worst-hit areas, was not on the list of areas to be opened up, Xinhua said. Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the county town which will not be rebuilt due to the widespread devastation, but instead will be reopened as an earthquake museum.

During the May 12 first anniversary, several hundred thousand people were allowed into the county seat to visit the site and mourn those who lost their lives there.