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Once an oasis - The tragedy of Dongqi School
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When the earthquake struck, the area around the Dong Qi school was particularly hard-hit. What is left of the school stands on the edge of several acres of waste and destruction.

Much of the area around the school was devastated.

Now, that entrance arch is the only part of the main school building that is left standing. Everything it carried is still there – the motto, the Honour Roll, the maps, the portraits – but all are coated with a fine dust of pulverised mortar and plaster. Bizarrely, the clock ticks on, still dutifully and accurately recording the time, more than a week after the earthquake that destroyed the school and took the lives of so many of its students.

The statue and fountain are cracked. Dead fish lie in the dry bed of the pond. Already the gardens and trees look overgrown and dishevelled, and the courtyard is littered with rubble. Through the doorway and up the steps, the riverside walkway is cracked and uneven. Some of the stone log benches have broken and fallen down the banks into the sluggish brown water of the river. Up in the mountains is a quake dam that threatens what little is left of Hanwang Town, and other still-populated areas to the east.

The site is deserted, not another human being to be seen. The school might have been derelict for years. Around the fallen buildings lies evidence of a struggle for life – lifting gear and straps, heavy-duty crane cables, oxy-acetylene gas canisters, a helmet, a hacksaw, some shovels. The fight was long and hard, but largely futile. Of the hundreds of children who were buried, only a dozen or so were pulled out alive. One was the iconic and courageous figure of 16-year old-Yang Liu, who survived for over 60 hours in the rubble, and whose legs were ultimately amputated in order to free her.

It is impossible to look at this scene of devastation and ignore the questions 'How', and 'Why'. Why did so many children have to die? What was it about this particular building that caused it to collapse, while others did not?

Was it simply bad luck – after all, much of the town of Hanwang was destroyed? Was it human error or incompetence? Or was it something more sinister – deliberate misconduct linked to corruption?

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