BEICHUAN, Sichuan -- The quake-devastated Beichuan county seat in southwest China's Sichuan Province reopened Sunday to residents to mourn the dead ahead of the first anniversary of the disaster.
Some 21,000 people, or two-thirds of the county seat's population, were dead or missing in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12 last year, making the county the worst hit in the quake.
The county will be open for four days till Wednesday.
Mourners brought flowers, incense and candles and set off firecrackers in the ruins of former bus stations, county government buildings and homes. The police distributed bottled water to the crowd for free.
"I come here today to tell my mom that dad, sister and I will live a better life. I miss her and I will often come to see her," said Zheng Chengrong, a student who returned from a vocational college in Mianyang City and dedicated flowers to her mother.
Zheng's younger sister studies at Beichuan Middle School, where more than 1,000 students were dead or missing in the quake. Construction of the new school will begin on May 12.
"I wish my sister can study hard to enter the senior high school. My mom would be very happy then if she knew that," Zheng said.
Cheng Piyi and Huang Guiqiong, a couple who lost their daughter, brought their 16-month son to Beichuan.
"We wish she could see the flowers," Cheng said. "When our son grows up, we will tell him that he had a sister who liked him very much."
The town has been closed since May 20 last year. It reopened to former residents during Qingming, or tomb-sweeping day, in April.
A new county seat will be built 23 km from the former one. The new town is expected to have 58,000 residents in 2010 and 110,000 in 2020.