Fri, May 16, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Housing the newly homeless will be a massive effort


Li Ande ran a convenience shop as a solidly middle-class citizen in this quiet tourist town, until the earthquake pulverized that and his home. Two days on, he’s squatting under a tarp with seven members of his extended family.

“We’ve got no choice. Our house is gone,” Li said, sitting under the plastic sheet tied to a tree with an umbrella propped up nearby for added shelter.

He said he’s hoping “the government can do something for us.”

While Beijing mounts a military mobilization to rescue people trapped under rubble, the struggle to find food, water and shelter goes on for the survivors.

At least tens of thousands — and perhaps many more — are homeless and much of the disaster zone is teeming with refugees, cramming into sports arenas, tent camps or rickety makeshift shelters.

Dujiangyan, known for charming tea shops along the Min River, is a mess. Aside from the debris of ruined buildings, orange peels, instant noodle cups and dog droppings litter the ground. Parks and any open ground are crammed with tents. Toilets are rare.

The government’s response to the enormous challenge has been uneven so far: Thousands were staying at a sports arena in Mianyang City, bused there from devastated towns. Some were living in relief tents pitched in tidy rows. But many were forced to fend for themselves.

“I feel lucky,” said 44-year-old Zhang Mingfu, who had built a wood and plastic shelter with a straw floor along a road in An Xian, where about 30 family members were staying after fleeing from down a valley whose towns were obliterated.

There has been no official tally of those who cannot return home. The group includes not only those whose homes were destroyed but also people who are afraid to go indoors and others who have been ordered into the streets by officials for fear that aftershocks will bring standing buildings down. But the Civil Affairs Ministry has said a half-million houses collapsed.

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