Recalling the night when the nation’s worst earthquake in recent memory devastated central Taiwan, Yang Jing-chang (楊景昌) tightened his right biceps to show that he still possesses the power he summoned 14 years ago to rescue two young children from a collapsed building.
A police officer, Yang had just gotten off duty and was still at the station when he felt the ground shake. Then he heard a mother’s desperate pleas.
“Help me, help me,” said Wang to the Taipei Times, citing the woman.
With a surge of adrenaline, Yang spent the next four and a half hours with a hammer and shovel, digging through the brick remains of a demolished three-story building, eventually reuniting the mother with her son and daughter.
Yang is now a volunteer at the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan in Wufeng (霧峰). He believes that the museum helps people not only to understand the natural disaster that claimed more than 2,400 lives and injured another 11,300, but also to learn about future earthquakes.
“I want to help visitors understand how to protect themselves from earthquakes,” said Yang, now 58 years old. “We need to know why buildings collapse so this doesn’t happen again.”
For visitors too young to have lived through the devastation of 1999, the museum offers games that teach lessons on earthquakes. Earlier this month, four-year-old Yang Zheng-xun (楊政勳) played with toy building materials in an interactive exhibit designed to show how top-heavy buildings without supportive walls are prone to collapse.
“It’s too difficult for him to understand the power of earthquakes,” said his mother, Lin Chiao-ling (林巧玲) of Taipei. “But we’ll come here again when he gets older.”
The museum, a 30-minute drive south of Greater Taichung, attracts over 300,000 visitors a year, half of whom are guided through on school field trips. On an annual budget of NT$60 million, it is maintained by a staff of 30 employees and 270 volunteers.
Opened in 2005 where the Kuangfu Junior High School once stood, the museum also offers visitors a glimpse into the past.
Standing before two classrooms now pancaked in a heap of concrete, museum docent Liu Ching-yen (劉青硯) said it’s fortunate that the 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck in the middle of the night, sparing the students and staff.
“The most important lesson here is how to protect yourself,” Liu said. “It’s not a matter of if a big earthquake happens again, but when.”
Throughout Taiwan, there are more than 30,000 earthquakes annually, hundreds of which are routinely felt, Liu said. Occasionally, she added, the nation will be jolted by an earthquake strong enough to inflict widespread damage and casualties.
Preparing for the inevitable, yet unpredictable, event is Liu’s mission. While encouraged by the number of youths visiting the museum, she called on more earthquake education in schools.
“Most of the kids don’t understand how powerful earthquakes can be,” she said.
“We need to talk more about how to protect ourselves.”
Chelungpu Fault Gallery: Showcases the 2.5-meter rise in earth that occurred when the fault ruptured
Earthquake Engineering Hall: Provides home and public safety tips, along with modern earthquake resistance technology
Image Gallery: Provides a simulated earthquake experience
Disaster Prevention Hall: Presents ways to prepare for a range of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods