A collapsed building of the Junior High School at Yingxiu Town is now a memorial site
A collapsed building of the Junior High School at Yingxiu Town is now a memorial site

My earthquake experience in China

When we all woke up to devastating news on the calamitous 7.8 earthquake that had struck both Türkiye (South East) and Syria on Monday, February 6, 2023, it brought back all the memories (not fond ones) of my experience in faraway China, and it is one encounter I would not wish for anyone.

At the last count the number of people killed in the two countries had crossed the 41,000 mark, with the people of Antakya bearing the greatest brunt - 35,3418 and Syria experiencing 5,814 deaths.


It is all a warning to us in Ghana, especially after we have experienced some earth tremors lately, with the most recent series of tremors occurring on December 12, 2022 in some parts of Accra.

I remember my experience in China as if it were only yesterday. It began as a very faint sound, as that of a passing big vehicle but the sound grew louder and clearer. Before I could fathom what was happening, the ground on which I stood started shaking and grew in intensity as the seconds ticked.

There was no time to react and I had to hold on to a metal railing with all my might so as not to lose my balance. I heard shouts and screams of terror as I watched huge buildings tumble and crumble and choking dust filled the horror-filled air.

Huge gaps also appeared before me and swallowed whole or in part some buildings and huge trees, and with it some people – the shrieks that I heard still haunt me.

It was then that it hit me with a great thud that I was experiencing an earthquake. But I was helpless and only hoped and prayed that it would pass quickly and leave me alive.

After what looked like eternity, the violent shaking and the opening up of the bowels of the earth stopped but there were occasional shifts as displaced structures readjusted to find their balance.

I survived

The fact that I could take in all that was happening around me meant I had survived a very devastating earthquake to tell the story.

Thousands of others like me did not live through the horrible experience as whole families were wiped out.

I did not survive the experience because I was a super being or because I was better than those who died.

My experience of the earthquake at the Yingxiu Town in the Wenchuan County in the Sichuan Province in China was a ‘make believe’ one but it felt so real.

The experience

In 2017, visiting African journalists to a museum opened in memory of the victims of the worst earthquake disaster to hit China in 2008, were given a feel of how it must have felt for those who experienced it when it struck without warning and claimed over 80,000 lives.

The journalists were ushered into a room with a ring-like elevation and asked to hold on firmly to the railings but they did not know what to expect until the platform started vibrating, then shaking vigorously, as projectors overhead began showing footages of the disastrous earthquake as it hit the country nine years earlier.

Fear-gripped people and they ran for their lives amid eerie screams as whole buildings went tumbling down and the surreal surrounding sound of the mini theatre made the simulated earthquake experience feel real and scary.

It was no wonder, therefore, that after that experience and a tour of the museum, which displays many pictures of the quake and the heroic national and international support from countries such as Cuba and Russia, the previously bubbly journalists became subdued.

Also on display at the museum were some items recovered after the disaster and signed memorabilia of journalists, doctors and health staff, soldiers and relief workers who were on hand to assist the country in their time of difficulty.

In the museum, not only the dead are remembered but also those who offered assistance after the disaster.

At the epicentre of the earthquake in Yingxiu, one of several schools which were razed down and claimed over 5,000 lives of pupils and students has also been maintained as a memorial site close to the museum.

The site still shows the cracked and heavily tilted buildings on the compound. Visitors are able to lay some flowers in memory of those who lost their lives, and have their cemetery close to the museum.

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