Yesterday marked a full five years since a massive 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck China's Sichuan province, leaving over 80,000 people dead. Across the region, the May 12th anniversary was observed with both formal ceremonies and informal pilgrimages to the ruined towns of Sichuan.

In Beichuan, where nearly half of the population perished in the tragedy, the local government decided quickly after the quake to preserve the town's destroyed buildings as a tourist attraction and memorial rather than demolish them. The ruins also function as a graveyard for thousands of the 18,000 dead whose bodies were never found.

A new Beichuan is being built fifteen miles south on a flat river plain, farther from the fault lines that spelled doom for the old city.

On the ruined campus of Beichuan Middle School, where 1,300 children perished, weeds run wild and goats graze, evidence that the forces of nature can promote growth as well as destruction.

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  • A flower is left on the ruins of Beichuan Middle School by relatives of earthquake victims as they mourn at the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county during the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2013 in Mianyang, China. Many commemoration activities will be held to mark the fifth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008 and claimed nearly 90,000 lives. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • Residents gather before a monument of the 5/2 Sichuan earthquake on the 5th anniversary of the disaster to pay their condolence on May 12, 2013, in Yingxiu township of Wenchuan county, southwest China's Sichuan province.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Residents attend a ceremony at Beichuan ruins to mark the 5th anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in old Beichuan county, southwest China's Sichuan province on May 12, 2013. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A general view of the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county before the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 11, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • Earthquake survivors mourn for earthquake victims at the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county during the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • A man pays respect near the flowers placed at the relic site of Beichuan Middle School damaged by earthquake in Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County in southwest China's Sichuan province Saturday, May 11, 2013. (AP Photo)

  • Relatives of earthquake victims burn offerings to mourn their relatives at the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county during the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • Residents give offerings and mourn the dead on the 5th anniversary of the 512 Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2013 in the old Beichuan county, southwest China's Sichuan province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • People mourn for earthquake victims at the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county during the fifth anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2013 in Beichuan County, China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

  • Residents give offerings and mourn the dead on the 5th anniversary of the 512 Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2013 in the old Beichuan county, southwest China's Sichuan province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Earthquake survivors mourn for earthquake victims at the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county during the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • A general view of the new-built Beichuan county before the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 11, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • Relatives of earthquake victims burn offerings at the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county during the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • Earthquake survivors mourn for earthquake victims at the ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county during the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 12, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • A little tourist visits the Wenchuan Earthquake Memorial before the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 11, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • A goat stands on the Beichuan Middle School's ruins of earthquake-hit Beichuan county before the five year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on May 11, 2013 in Mianyang, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

  • This photo taken on May 11, 2013 shows residents watching the old Beichuan as the 5th anniversary falls on May 12, in old Beichuan county, southwest China's Sichuan province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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