Sun, Sep 15, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Housing the survivors of the deadly 921 Earthquake

Many people lived in makeshift communities in the weeks and months after losing their homes in the devastating 921 Earthquake of 1999. Some continue to live there today

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The people of Huatung New Village lived in these makeshift temporary homes for 19 years.

Photo: Huang Chung-shan, Taipei Times

Sept. 16 to Sept. 22

Chen Yu-lan’s (陳玉蘭) extended family lived in tents on the streets of Taichung for almost three weeks following the devastating 921 Earthquake of 1999. Their landlord evicted them from their rented apartment after it was damaged, and having nowhere else to go, the Aboriginal Amis family was running out of options.

Many shared Chen’s fate after the disaster. Lai Ta-ming (賴大明), a 70-year-old who lived alone, lost all his possessions and stayed in a tent for almost four months before a cold front prompted him to seek better options.

The 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck at 1:47am on Sept. 21, 1999, causing widespread destruction and killing 2,415 people, while injuring 11,305. According to government compensation data, a total of 103,961 households were displaced.

Those who lost their home were offered three options by the government: live in a temporary prefabricated community, receive rent compensation or purchase public housing at a 30 percent discount.

The prefab houses were only meant to be used for a few years, but one community that still exists today is Puti Changching Village (菩提長青村) in Nantou County, which is composed of elderly residents who lost their homes in the earthquake. Originally a temporary site, the village was transformed into an experimental independent elderly community, whose residents were allowed to stay. This is where Lai went after leaving his tent.

Chen’s family found a new home in Huatung New Village (花東新村), located in Taichung’s Wufeng District (霧峰). It was comprised of people from the Amis indigenous community living in the Taichung area who didn’t know each other, but came together after the disaster. They built their own temporary homes, and after waiting for 19 years, their village was given a makeover this year.


Volunteers to the disaster-struck areas soon noticed that there were many elderly living alone in tents, half destroyed homes or in shipping containers. Their relatives, if they had any, were either estranged or preoccupied with rebuilding efforts.

A Buddhist monk took them in, offering both shelter and food in a religious building in Puli Township (埔里), about 60km from the epicenter. The monk eventually entrusted them to the care of Chen Fang-tzu (陳芳姿), a local volunteer who lost both her and her husband’s businesses in the earthquake. Chen convinced the Puli government to rent land from the Taiwan Sugar Corporation to build a temporary prefab village for these residents.

Puti Changching, which means “Evergreen Bodhi,” was inaugurated on March 11, 2000, with construction funded by Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp and YWCA staff. It had 50 residential units and 25 public facilities, and residents enjoyed free rent, meals and utilities. Chen became the village’s first chief, dedicating her time and resources along with her husband, Wang Tzu-hua (王子華), to fundraising and ensuring quality living for the residents. External support was plenty, but Chen hoped that the residents could also earn income through selling crafts and other activities.

Despite everything being free, the residents were expected to contribute to the community. The able-bodied ones grew their own vegetables, worked on a flower garden and did their own laundry and cleaning. Each resident was also responsible for communal chores such as raising chickens or sweeping. Wang says that the residents were especially grateful to receive help from so many strangers, which motivated them to help out as much as they could. This boosted their self-worth and strengthened the sense of community, which was especially important to those who were already marginalized before the disaster.

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