BEICHUAN, Sichuan, April 1 (Xinhua) -- The barbed wire around Beichuan's old county seat was gone.
The county that perished in last year's devastating earthquake reopened Wednesday morning to former residents who wished to mourn the dead ahead of the annual tomb sweeping day that falls on Saturday.
Beichuan County, which has been closed since May 20 last year, will be open for four days until Saturday.
The mourning crowd began pouring into the dead county at 7 a.m. Policemen checked everyone's ID to make sure only natives of Beichuan were allowed into the county.
Most mourners brought incense, candles and bouquet to the ruins of former schools, homes and offices, shed tears, and spent a few hours with the deceased.
Thousands of white paper flowers and heart-shaped cards were tied to the fence encircling the collapsed building of Beichuan High School in memory of the students and teachers killed in the quake.
"I burnt some paper money for my wife last week, from atop a hill that overlooks the old county seat," said Qiao Hong, 34. "It was her birthday."
Almost 11 months after the disaster, Qiao was still hesitant to go back to his old place, fearing memories of his past would haunt him.
"I feel my son is still there, waiting for me to take him home from kindergarten."
The mother and son were among at least 4,700 people listed as "missing" under the rubble of Beichuan. Plus the 15,600 confirmed deaths, the county lost two-thirds of its population in the quake.
Wednesday's reopening of the ghost town was a real challenge for the local government. Sanitation workers had to sterilize the ruins that used to be homes, schools, teahouses and workshops; health workers and ambulances stood by, ready to provide first-aid to the grieving mourners.
The county government had to clean the streets leading to the old county seat of vendors, mostly quake survivors who eked out living selling postcards of the quake site, incense and "paper money" for the dead.
The government also arranged 10 buses that offered free rides for the mourners to travel from their new homes in the nearby city of Mianyang.
About one kilometer from his son's kindergarten was Qiao Hong's home, a green apartment building that used to house dozens of workers from the county's telecom company. The building remained intact but entry was forbidden for safety considerations.
Qiao looked around and saw no policemen on patrol.
"I want to get home for a quick look," he told reporters who followed him into the building.
A deserted PC blocked the way on the second floor. Qiao recognized it was his own. "Someone stole it," he said.
The door to his third-floor apartment was open and the place was half empty. Before the county was closed, Qiao and his neighbors were given a few days to take away their belongings.
He didn't take his wedding photo. So the couple remained smiling on their bedroom wall, with Qiao in a suit and tie and his wife, Mu Chunyan, in a white wedding gown.
The bedroom floor was piled with love letters he wrote to his wife nearly 20 years ago.
"We were classmates at high school," he said, ignoring reporters' question why he hadn't taken the letters to his new home.
Qiao avoided entering his son's bedroom, fearing he might collapse at the sight of the picture books and toys on the floor.
He spent 30 minutes searching through a pile of books on the balcony, before he took out two: one on gardening and the other on computer engineering.
Accidentally, he found a few pictures of his wife and son, which he carefully put away.
Qiao said he would come back home Saturday, the official tomb sweeping day.
"Any plans for the future? I don't know for sure. Maybe I'll marry again, sometime next year, have a child and try to live the way I used to live."
Qiao has a girlfriend, who has been cooking and doing most household chores for him for six months.
"But it is not ripe yet."