By Becky Davis
Jiuzhaigou, China (AFP) Aug 10, 2017
Tourism may prove one of the bigger casualties from a strong earthquake that struck a region of southwestern China whose natural beauty and Tibetan heritage draw millions of visitors each year.
Twenty people were killed by Tuesday's 6.5-magnitude quake in Sichuan province, a comparatively low toll -- thanks to the area's remoteness -- for a country prone to some of the world's deadliest quakes.
But the disaster deals an economic blow to Jiuzhaigou, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned in China and whose mostly ethnic Tibetan and Qiang people depend heavily on income from visitors.
"There probably won't be any more tourists the rest of the year. It may take two or three years for things to get back to normal," Yang Siding, a Tibetan in his 30s, told AFP.
"We pretty much depend entirely on tourism to make a living. We have nothing else," Yang, who runs a guesthouse, said while checking on his apartment following an aftershock.
Jiuzhaigou is prized as one of heavily polluted China's few remaining areas of pristine beauty. More than 140 lakes, ranging from crystal-clear to turquoise, lie at the feet of forested mountains.
Despite its remoteness, the local government said the park hit its maximum daily capacity of 41,000 visitors just days before the quake, after luring 1.56 million tourists in 2017's first half.
More than 30,000 tourists were in the park when the quake struck, heavily damaging at least one hotel. At least six visitors and two Jiuzhaigou residents were among the quake dead.
Most damage from the quake appeared caused by landslides, and harrowing reports emerged describing people being killed or injured by boulders smashing into buildings and cars.
More than 30,000 tourists were evacuated by late Wednesday.
National tourism authorities have issued their highest safety warning for Jiuzhaigou, telling tourists to stay away and travel agencies to cease organising trips amid recurring aftershocks and landslides.
- Ghost towns -
Normally bustling Jiuzhaigou hamlets like Zhangzha now resemble ghost towns, according to AFP journalists who visited Thursday. Although quake damage appeared minimal, hotels and shops were boarded up or deserted along rubbish-strewn streets.
Tourism had proved a local godsend as China's growing middle class increasingly catches the travel bug. Residents say many who grew up as poor farmers now have cars and some can even afford second homes in big cities.
"After tourism came here (around 2000) our quality of life improved so much," said Yang.
"Now I suppose we'll have to go out elsewhere and find jobs."
The tremor stirred memories of a devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake in similarly mountainous areas of the same region in 2008 that left 87,000 people dead or missing.
The 2008 quake cost Sichuan -- home to several of China's famed panda sanctuaries and renowned Tibetan monasteries -- "tens of billions of yuan" (several billion dollars) in tourism revenue, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
"Now it's in the government's hands. They'll have to assess whether the buildings are safe before letting tourists back here," said hotel cook Zhou Quan, a member of China's dominant Han ethnic group.
Even after that, Jiuzhaigou will be scarred.
Quake-triggered landslides ripped swathes of green forest from mountainsides, leaving huge gashes, in some places tumbling into the glassy waters and turning them brown, aerial footage by Chinese media showed.
One of the park's best-loved spots -- Sparkling Lake -- suffered "severe" damage, park authorities said, after one of its banks collapsed, draining a section of the lake nearly dry.
The outlook is worsened by government policies, said Songpa Tsanduze, a Tibetan woman in her 40s who runs a Zhangzha shop.
Wearing golden hoop ear-rings and elaborate hair braids, she said authorities had used traditional Tibetan land for a reforestation project.
"There are trees on our land so we can't farm it. We have no choice but to go into business. But now, after this earthquake, I don't know how we'll be able to feed ourselves," she said.
Chengdu, China (AFP) Aug 9, 2017
China on Wednesday evacuated nearly 60,000 people in its mountainous southwest after a strong earthquake killed at least 19, rattling a region where memories of a 2008 seismic disaster remain fresh. The 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan province late on Tuesday, tearing cracks in mountain highways, triggering landslides, damaging buildings and sending panicked residents and tourists fl ... read more
Bringing Order To A World Of Disasters
When the Earth Quakes
A world of storm and tempest
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|