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FYI SOUTH Magazine, June 2003. VOL.3 ISSUE 6


The 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan: Remembering a tragedy

By Cheryl Robbins

      At 1:47 a.m. on September 21, 1999, Taiwan experienced one of its worst natural disasters of the past century--a 7.3-magnitude earthquake that devastated the central part of the island, claimed more than 2,000 lives and injured more than 8,000 others.

      Shortly after the earthquake, the TVBS cable television network set up a foundation for contributions. Donations poured in, with more than NT$100 million being received in just over a month. After much consideration, it was decided that part of the funds should be set aside to build a memorial at the site of GuangFu Junior High School in Taichung County's Wufeng Town. Most of the school's buildings completely collapsed and its distorted and up-lifted running track was one of the most frequently recorded images from the quake.

      Today, these collapsed buildings and topographical changes have been preserved in an outdoor museum setting as evidence of the quake's severity. Next to this is the Earthquake Images Hall. Visitors are asked to begin their tour on the second floor, featuring modern art exhibits pertaining to various aspects of the 921 Earthquake and the history of quakes in Taiwan. TV screens in the floor show news clips from coverage of the 921 Earthquake by TV stations around the world.

      The hallway leading to the first floor has a series of photographs. One section chronicles the efforts of international rescue teams in their search for survivors, and has a memorial space, hidden behind a black curtain. In this darkened area, the names of the victims roll past on the floor. A projected image of a flickering candle provides the only other light. The final section of the hallway features very moving photos of people in front of their collapsed homes, or holding up pictures of killed loved ones. There are also photos of victim protests, a reminder of the difficulties still faced by survivors.

     On the first floor is one of the hall's most intense experiences--a quake re-enactment film shown on a large screen under a transparent floor. Visitors are asked to sit or kneel and look down at the screen--for those afraid of heights, the experience can be a little unsettling. The short film shows buildings and bridges violently shaking, then collapsing, accompanied by frighteningly realistic sound effects.

      The Earthquake Images Hall and the outdoor museum officially opened to the public on September 21, 2002. With this opening, the TVBS foundation, having spent what it could on this project, turned it over to the Ministry of Education and the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung to continue building, operation and management. The current facilities are actually just the first phase of development. To strengthen the museum's educational function, a docent center and second exhibition hall are expected to open on September 21, 2003.

     For those who experienced the 921 Earthquake, a visit here is certain to bring back a flood of memories and emotions. For those who were not directly affected, this is an opportunity to witness the devastation that an earthquake can cause, as well as the outpouring of emotion that continues to be evident even three years after the original disaster.

921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan
42, FuHsing Rd., Sec. 1. Wufeng Town, Taichung County
Tel: (04) 2339-0906
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9 am-4-30 pm
Admission free



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