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The Ruins of Beichuan, 5 Years Later

May 10, 2013
By Eric Fish

When the Great Sichuan Earthquake hit China on May 12, 2008, no town was hit harder than Beichuan. Nestled tightly in a mountain valley, it was home to 20,000 people prior to the disaster. But when it struck, 80 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed and more than half the population was killed. After the quake, the area was deemed too dangerous to ever rebuild upon. So it was decided that the ruins would be left as they were as a memorial to all those who lost their lives, including the hundreds who still remain buried in the rubble.

The city was opened to visitors in 2011. These photos were taken in June, 2012.

The earthquake caused a landslide and a quake lake that threatened to burst the Tangjiashan Dam on the Jian River. One month after the disaster, the lake was drained through a sluice channel that had been built, which flooded part of what remained of Beichuan.

The site where Beichuan High School once stood. When the quake struck, the school was leveled in seconds, killing upwards of 1,300 students. Many were outraged by the poor construction quality and accused local officials and contractors of using shoddy building materials and skimming construction funds. Several people who tried to investigate school collapses independently were arrested or harassed. In 2009, the government released an investigation stating that the intensity of the earthquake was soley to blame for the collapse, not faulty construction. The ediface has since been completely cleared away.


A building adjacent to Beichuan High School


Visitors pay their respects at a memorial in front of Beichuan High School

Qushan Primary School where 407 people, mostly students, perished.


Scattered desks in what's left of Qushan Primary School.

A picture of Qushan Primary School before the earthquake.

A landslide that occured on the mountainside overlooking Beichuan High School. A parent has placed a memorial for their fallen child.

An apartment building in Beichuan

A hotel building being held up by supports.

A car crushed by the weight of a collapsing building.

A destroyed apartment building.

An abandoned home.

A business district.

A bridge that was destroyed in the earthquake. Landslides and flooding have resulted in a constant waterfall running off what remains of the bridge.

A restaurant.

A dormitory for a nearby vocational school.


 A van that was overturned by the force of the earthquake.

An apartment building that was completely leveled.

A construction project that would never be completed.


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