Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Fear of a Big Earthquake

In the summer of 1976, there was a big earthquake in northeast China which registered above 7.8 on the Richter Scale. Most people in the city of Tangshan (唐山) died in the early morning earthquake. We felt the earthquake even though we were far away in the southwest of the country. My province is in a known earthquake zone with a lot of geological faults. Some predicted an earthquake in my province also. People started to become very nervous. Few went to work. Shelters were being built everywhere where there was open space because everyone was afraid of the brick apartment buildings. My parents’ institute set up a tent in an open field for its employees. We had two double beds where we stayed at night. My grandma was with us in the tent. There were a few aftershocks at night which some people felt, but I was asleep. One day we went back to our apartments for some things; I felt the floor move and my uncle reacted fast, saying “Earthquake.” We started to run downstairs from the third floor. It was only an aftershock and the only one that I felt.
     When everything returned to normal and there were no more aftershocks, there was a documentary at the institute’s theater. The movie was about the big earthquake in the northeast, for research purposes. Only adults could go in. I was about 15 years old and was really interested in seeing the movie too. So, I took my mom’s work clothes and a hat and coat. The scenes of the movie were horrifying. The whole city was leveled like after a major war. It was interesting to know that most tunnels were in perfect shape and a lot of coal miners survived. The homes with basements also did better than those without. It was said that the houses with basements blended in with the earth and became one unit.
     Not only did millions die from this natural disaster; the Chinese government’s three most important leaders including Chairman Mao also died that year. Some said it was because of the “year of the dragon.” The year 1976 became our country’s turning point as well as mine.

     I knew this movie "Aftershock".  I did not have courage to watch this movie because so many of people I knew and worked with died in 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. I worked in the area 4 years before I came to the US in 1986. Frank recommended me to watch this movie after he and his wife watched it. Great one!

Aftershock (Tangshan Dadizhen)