Massive rocks have smashed the Yinghua Railway.
By David Ferguson
China.org.cn correspondent reporting from Sichuan
Traveling north from Chengdu, the Province of Sichuan is as flat as a plate. Paddy fields stretch for miles, intersected with other staple crops.
In the haze or the drizzle, the mountains are invisible for most of the trip. There are no foothills to indicate their whereabouts, nothing to let you feel that you might be arriving at the start of high country.
All of a sudden they loom over you like a wall, or perhaps more like sharp teeth, as they are high, pointed, and above all very steep – breathtakingly so to anyone who is accustomed to European mountains. To the peasants who farm the plains they must appear very intimidating.
Driving up the road from Shifang, the damage is limited. Though many have suffered in some way, most of the buildings have survived the earthquake without great harm. The threat of the quake and its aftermath can be better seen in the number of homes with some kind of makeshift tent outside: first a few, then a larger number but not most of them, then many more, and finally them all.
When you do suddenly hit the mountains, the first thing you see on the opposite side of the Zuxi River valley is half a hillside that has simply disappeared. The raw terracotta color of the exposed earth confirms that the damage is new. The landslide took a lot of the road with it, and from the angle across the river the repairs do not look safe. The sides of the mountains are covered with similar red gashes as far up the valley as you can see.
Before we reached Yinghua, we were given our own close-up of the threat from the mountains. A huge landslip had carried away the railway, and deposited rocks the size of a small bus on the road. Too big to remove or break, these had simply been pushed aside to allow a single-track passage which the two streams of traffic took their turn to cross. Workers were busy trying to repair the damage – it seemed a monumental task.
Arriving in Yinghua was a profound shock. This was the first time we had been given a look at the true extent of the earthquake damage. Most of the dwellings up here are old-style single storey two or three-room bungalows. Their roofs are timbered and topped with profiled tiles, a method that makes them very heavy. Most of the roofs have given way, and taken many of the dwellings with them.
One point is worth making. There are a number of modern bungalows in Yinghua. They are basically the same design as the older homes, but built of modern materials. The roofs, for example, are sheet aluminium styled like a tile. These houses seem to have a far greater capacity to withstand the stresses of an earthquake. There were not many of them, but I did not see a single one that had collapsed.