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Scars begin to heal a decade after Sichuan quake

By Jason Lee and Ben Blanchard

BEICHUAN, China (Reuters) - A decade after a massive earthquake rocked China's southwestern province of Sichuan, killing almost 70,000 people, the scars have begun to heal.

The 7.9 magnitude quake which hit on May 12, 2008 was most devastating around its epicenter in Beichuan.

Many of the houses that collapsed remain buried under the earth and are covered by overgrown bushes and weeds.

In some of the houses still standing, now part of an open air memorial to the dead, wedding photos hang on the wall.

Damaged school classrooms remain a mess, with books on the desks turning black with rot.

Signs in Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean and French urge visitors to be careful where they tread to let the dead rest in peace.

Chen Mingyou, 73, survived the quake but his daughter and son-in-law died.

A new home stands nearby, but Chen prefers to stay in his old house which he said was repaired to meet new safety standards.

"I am used to the old house. I only stay in the new house when my son and grandson come back to visit," he said.

Some of the most heart-wrenching stories from the 2008 quake came from the schools which collapsed, crushing children alive.

Zheng Haiyang, now 27, lost both his legs after being buried in Beichuan Middle School, where he was trapped for more than 22 hours.

"I still feel sad now when I think of that time, but I am in a good condition now. Many people and organizations have helped me after the quake," Zheng said.

He now works for an Internet company in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. "It's a platform to provide services to disabled people." he said.

Other survivors recalled their own narrow escape from serious injury or death.

Liu Guizhen, 95, and her 106-year-old husband Wang Guanneng both survived the quake that killed their adopted son and daughter-in-law.

Liu said a rock flew over her head when the quake struck as she was busy working in the fields, leaving her unscathed.

The local government is supporting villagers to develop leisure and tourism industries after the quake, and many quake survivors have turned their newly-built houses into inns.

Liu says she also makes some money from selling eggs to tourists.

Sichuan remains seismically active.

Last August, a 7.0-magnitude quake in a mountainous part of Sichuan popular with tourists killed 20 and injured around 500.

(Ben Blanchard reported from Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)