China Earthquake
AP
Chinese Muslims and neighbors have a lunch at a mosque which is used as temporal shelters for neighbors who survived May 12th earthquake in Dujiangyan, southwestern China's Sichuan Province.
updated 6/2/2008 5:27:12 PM ET 2008-06-02T21:27:12

Taoist Master Dan Jia picks through the wreckage of the 1,500-year-old Erwangmiao Temple, piling books in a stack and dusting off altarpieces.

The elaborate complex of hillside halls and chambers is among renowned historic sites in Sichuan province that were badly damaged by the massive earthquake in China nearly three weeks ago.

"We used to have thousands of visitors every week," said Dan, wearing a dusty gray robe. "This is an old temple, but there's never been anything like this."

The May 12 quake damaged 45 national and 59 provincial historical sites, state media said Friday, citing the State Administration of Cultural Relics. It estimated the destruction in the tens of millions of dollars and said repairs would take a minimum of two years.

The earthquake, which killed an estimated 80,000 people, also dealt a blow to the tourism industry — a mainstay of the local economy in the resort city of Dujiangyan.

More than 3 million visitors came Dujiangyan and its neighboring scenic Qingcheng mountain area last year, generating revenues of 3.3 billion yuan (about $475 million U.S.), said Ji Yanli, deputy marketing director for Dujiangyan's tourism department.

But since the quake, hotels and restaurants have closed en-masse, and damaged roads and other infrastructure will keep visitors away for months if not years. The direct economic losses to the sites damaged in the quake were estimated at about $288 million, though the toll could have been worse, Ji said.

"For many years, we've tried to preserve the historic buildings. They have been renovated regularly so they are quite strong," Ji said.

In the quake's aftermath, some historic sites have been converted to emergency shelters. Around 40 members of the city's Muslim community have taken up residence in their 500-year-old mosque, sleeping and eating where visitors once shot holiday photos.

"Dujiangyan is heavily dependent on tourism, so there's not much hope in the short term for the local economy," said the building's gatekeeper, Zhou Xinquan.

Luckily, other sites, including the city's historic covered bridge and ancient waterworks, were largely unscathed.

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Several panda breeding areas, including the world-famous Wolong Nature Reserve west of Dujiangyan, also have long been a tourist destination in Sichuan province.

But panda enclosures at Wolong were badly damaged in the quake, which also killed five staff at the park. Like other tourist sites deep in the mountains, Wolong has been closed pending repairs and the restoration of electricity and water supplies.

Conditions there remain so poor that the Chinese government last week arranged an emergency food shipment of about five tons of bamboo for the 47 pandas still at the reserve.

Chengdu resident Chen Bin drove to Qingcheng mountain with a carload of friends and family to check out the damage. Family members posed for pictures in front of a giant wooden gate adorned with blue figurines.

"We used to come up here five or six times a year," Chen, 36, said. "Of course, we plan to return in the future."

With massive demands for shelter, food and medical care, restoring the region's historic sites is a low priority at the moment. Taoist master Dan said a few officials from government religious affairs departments have visited since the quake but have yet to announce any specific rebuilding plans.

Ji said her department would announce a reconstruction plan next month, although no date had been set for the start of work.

"The biggest challenge for us now is to know when the aftershocks will stop. Until they stop, we can't begin rebuilding because we have to ensure our workers' safety," she said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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