Fri, Sep 20, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Nantou’s memories of 921

Visitors commemorate the deadly 921 Earthquake at three memorial sites in Nantou County

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

The dome at Chelungpu Fault Preservation Park.

Photo: Steven Crook

Tomorrow will be the 20th anniversary of the most lethal earthquake to hit Taiwan since World War II.

The natural disaster that shook Taiwan in the early hours of Sept. 21, 1999 killed more than 2,400 people, injured more than 11,000 and caused property damage of more than NT$300 billion (US$10 billion).

A school in Taichung City wrecked by the earthquake was later converted into the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan (921地震教育園區). The museum is deservedly popular as a destination for tourists and students. However, it’s not the only permanent site that marks the event. This article describes three less well-known locations that also commemorate the disaster.

DOME OF THE FAULT

Before the 921 Earthquake, scientists had identified some sections of the Chelungpu Fault (車籠埔斷層), but for much of its length — thought to be at least 80km — it was hidden beneath collapsed hillsides or shale deposited by rivers.

During the quake, this non-vertical fault sprang back to life. The hanging wall was lifted to between 1m to 4m above the footwall. Houses directly above it were wrecked, but often the neighboring buildings were barely damaged.

To better understand the geological processes involved, researchers excavated part of the exposed fault in Nantou County’s Jhushan Township (竹山鎮) after the disaster. The project came to resemble an archaeological dig, and faced some of the same challenges. It had to be protected from the elements, and in order to preserve it long-term as an educational site, a lightweight but weatherproof dome was built over it.

The dome now forms one part of Chelungpu Fault Preservation Park (車籠埔斷層保存園區). The other is a more conventional building filled with seismological instruments and displays about earthquakes and related topics. One of the highlights is a simulated hot-air balloon ride over Taiwan’s landscape.

There’s a good amount of English-language information in the museum, but I don’t think I would have fully grasped the significance of the various lines and layers that the excavation exposed, had it not been for a knowledgeable staff member. He explained everything, in English, with the aid of a laser pointer. Thanks to him, I left with a much better idea of the distortion and compression that makes this spot no ordinary piece of land.

Directions

If you’re approaching the region via Freeway 3, take the Jhushan exit and you’ll see the park on the eastern side of Highway 3, where the off ramp joins the latter road. The park is open Tuesdays to Sundays, 9am to 5pm. Admission costs NT$50, but is free for local senior citizens and for entrances before 10am on Wednesdays.

CLAY-BAKED HANDPRINTS

The 921 Earthquake Memorial Wall (九二一震災紀念牆) is a private-sector tribute to those who were killed in the disaster. Sponsored by Tian Xing Kiln Ceramic Art Village (添興窯陶藝村), it consists of tiles in various colors on which visitors have imprinted their signatures, handprints and doodles before firing.

The wall has tactile as well as visual appeal. While there, I saw a family with two small children having great fun matching their hands with the different handprints.

Tian Xing Kiln was established in 1955, and for its first three decades it focused on the production of everyday items including roof tiles and flower pots. However, as house-building methods changed and plastics became more common, Tian Xing’s owners re-positioned the kiln as a tourism business.

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