Quake victims don't sleep alone

YINGXIU, Sichuan - While most focus on caring for survivors of Wenchuan's earthquake, Ma Fuyang has spent the last three years tending to its dead.

Until last September, the 67-year-old farmer was keeper of the "Grave of the May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake Victims", a half-hectare of hillside cornfield that became a mass grave when soldiers needed to bury about 6,000 bodies -- about a third of the population of Wenchuan county's Yingxiu town -- to prevent epidemics.

Following the 8.0-magnitude quake, there were too many corpses that had to be buried in too little time to lay the bodies to rest in the traditional way.

So excavators gouged trenches into which the military placed the nameless dead, wrapped in body bags, in groups according to where they were discovered, and covered them with lime and earth.

Among them was Ma's 12-year-old granddaughter, Ma Hongye, one of about 300 students from Yingxiu Primary School who died when the classrooms collapsed.

Because his granddaughter was interred at the grave, Ma volunteered to work there when it opened as a tombstone-filled memorial on June 25, 2008.

During the first year, Ma and Hu Jianguo, 71, who used to work with Ma at the cemetery yard, constantly heard the heartbreaking wails of mourners.

"We would often see primary school students kneeling in front of a mound where it was believed their teacher was buried, weeping and singing the teacher's favorite song," he recalled.

"One man from Fujian province, whose relative was killed at a construction site in Yingxiu, spent three days crying in the graveyard. It made me feel so sad."

But he was made most heartsick by two couples from East China's Zhejiang province, whose children had come to Sichuan after graduation to work at the Yingxiu Power Plant, where they married -- and where the earthquake took their lives. The couple returned to the cemetery every Qingming Festival, when the Chinese memorialize their deceased relatives, burn paper money for use in the afterlife and tidy their tombs.

"You could hear them crying before they even reached the graveyard," Ma recalled.

"The mother was so overcome with grief that she flopped on the ground, bawling and clawing at the earth so hard that her fingernails twisted," Ma said.

Ma and Hu tried in vain to comfort the two sets of parents.

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