Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Sun Moon Lake recovers

There are more hotels and tourists at the famed lake than before 921 earthquake four years ago today

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

View frin Shui Wa Tou Footpath, one of the eight round-the-lake footpath built after the earthquake.

PHOTO: VICO LEE, TAIPEI TIMES

Four years after the 921 earthquake, one of the most traumatic incidents in its history, Sun Moon Lake (日月潭 ), in Puli (埔里), Nantou (南投) County, is not only back on its feet but it has also surpassed its former success as a major tourist area in Taiwan.

A record-breaking number of tourist visited the the lake in the past year, drawn to the new attractions set up after the quake.

Except for the few reconstruction sites of hotels razed in the quake, you won't even notice this vibrant tourist spot was defaced four years ago.

In the early morning of this day in 1999, an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale shook the entire country. Its epicenter was 7.5km underground and 6.5km southwest of Sun Moon Lake. Over 2,300 people were killed and 39 went missing across Taiwan. Around Sun Moon Lake, large hotels crumbled. Wen Wu Temple (文武廟), one of the most popular sites, was destroyed. Kuanghua Islet (光華島), another popular site, split in half. Tsen Pagoda (慈恩塔) was knocked sideways.

Fortunately, Sun Moon Lake itself was undamaged and kept its former appearance and almost all facilities that were affected were restored by the end of last year, according to the Sun Moon Lake National Scenery Bureau. Four months after 921, the 1,900 hectare Sun Moon Lake Scenery Park was extended and it is now the 9,000 hectare Sun Moon Lake National Scenery Park. Administration for the park was transferred from the Nantou County Government to the Ministry of Transportation and Communication's Tourism Bureau.

When the Wen Wu Temple, the last lake-side reconstruction to be finished, reopens today, Sun Moon Lake will have won back all it has lost. Attractions set up after the earthquake, such as the eight lake-side foot-paths and bicycle tracks, add to the park's appeal.

A total of NT$1.368 billion has been poured into reconstruction in the past four years. "Work done in the past four years is much more than that done by the Nantou County Government in the 10 years before 921. The county government used to maintain what was already there, but since Sun Moon Lake became a national scenic area, there are new constructions we would never have expected before," said a life-long resident surnamed Huang. who lives in Shui-she (水社) Village, on the lake side.

In contrast with the many gloomy post-quake reports of Sun Moon Lake's future, residents now look back on the disaster in a more positive light. "In the quake, the worse hit was the hotels and Kuanghua Islet. The lake was what it was all along, just very beautiful," said Deng Hsiang-yang (鄧相揚), chief executive of the Sun Moon Lake Tourism Development Association, an organization of businesses in the area.

According to the Tourism Bureau, between 600,000 and 700,000 people visited the lake every year from 1998. In 1999, the year of the 921 earthquake, there were 630,000 visitors. The number dwindled to 310,000 in 2000, increased to 500,000 in 2001 and went back to the former level in last year, with 670,000 visitors. This year's numbers have already exceeded that, thanks to the first Sun Moon Lake International Fireworks Festival (日月潭國際水上花火嘉年華 ) and Sun Moon Lake Lake-Shore Music and Dance Festival (日月潭湖畔音樂舞蹈藝術節 ), which have brought in a daily average of 60,000 tourists. The Scenery Bureau expects the number of visitors to exceed 1 million this year.

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