Friday, February 8, 2008

A Visit to the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan

On February 2nd, Floyd and I had the chance to visit an interesting museum with some other expatriates here. It's on the site of a large junior high school that was totally destroyed in a major earthquake on September 21, 1999. They've reinforced the ruins with steel and concrete to keep them stable, but kept them in their original ruined condition for the museum, which is partly indoors (in new buildings) and partly outdoors.

One of the interesting things is the school's track, which is right on the Chelungpu Fault Line. One end of the track sank down maybe six or eight feet, which apparently helped scientists study the fault. That's because the lanes were the exact width required by international track and field standards, so scientists can use the lane markings to measure exactly how and how much the ground moved. The track's polyurethane (or whatever it's called) surface has remained in great condition,so it's easy to see the lines twisted, broken and mangled in the two places where the track fell away to lower ground.
"I didn't mean to!"

Anyway, it was an interesting place, though it was scary to see how totalled the buildings were. Fortunately the quake occurred in the middle of the night, otherwise hundreds of students would undoubtedly have been killed. The three-story classrooms were smashed down to about ten feet high in some places, with the bottom floor only about a foot high throughout.
In one of the indoor exhibits, there were TV screens showing original news coverage of the quake, and it was truly horrifying to see the damage in cities throughout Taiwan. Tall buildings crumbled and burned, with one skyscraper actually toppling sideways to fall full length across a road. (Apparently this earthquake helped inspire better building standards throughout the country, so there would be much less damage now if such a thing were to happen again.) One of the most interesting parts of the museum was the quake simulator room, where we sat on cushions on the floor and felt the room jerk and shake with the exact movements and magnitude of the original quake. That was pretty exciting, though Floyd said it didn't really feel authentic because there was no sound. The kids in our group said it was their favorite part of the museum!

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