Thu, May 22, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Housing the homeless becomes priority

KEEPING WATCHA woman was found alive in the tunnel of a hydropower plant, while the State Council warned officials against misusing aid tagged for relief

AP , CHENGDU AND BEIJING, CHINA

Medical personnel pay their condolences to earthquake victims as a collapsed school is demolished in Beichuan, Sichuan Province, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

More schools reopened yesterday in Sichuan Province, but rain and a lack of tents underscored the massive task facing the government in sheltering millions left homeless.

On the last day of a three-day official mourning period for quake victims, a crowd of some 2,000 people in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square who had been chanting “Go China!” grew quiet in a display of mourning at 2:28pm, the exact time the May 12 quake rattled Sichuan.

The earthquake has touched an emotional chord with the Chinese public, and prompted more than US$1.8 billion in donations from organizations and individuals.

Meanwhile, a woman was rescued after nine days, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday. She was found in a tunnel of a hydropower plant in the town of Hongbai, the agency said. No further details were available.

The State Council said in a statement yesterday that the country’s top anti-corruption office will deal sternly with officials who misuse or delay distribution of relief money.

Near the epicenter at Chengdu’s Qingyang district sports center, nine-year-old Gao Luwei played with friends after attending classes in the camp’s one-room elementary school.

“I don’t know how long we’ll be here, but I hope we are here the shortest time possible,” said Gao, whose regular school in the town of Dujiangyan was damaged in the earthquake that killed more than 40,000 people.

An official said it was important for children to return to their established routines of school and play to help overcome the trauma of loss.

“The most important thing is to return some semblance of normalcy to the kids’ lives,” said Zhu Jiang, a Chengdu city official who acts as spokesman for the camp.

“We don’t want them to feel like they’re refugees, but like they’ve simply moved to another place for a sort of extended holiday,” he said.

Compounding the housing problem for the 5 million homeless, rain was forecast for parts of Sichuan.

Beijing already has issued an urgent appeal for tents and brought in the first foreign teams of doctors and field hospitals, some of whom were swapping out with search and rescue specialists.

The switch underscored a shift in the response to China’s worst disaster in three decades from the emergency stage to recovery operations — and for many, enduring hardship.

China has begun moving some of the injured to other provinces for treatment. More than 200 arrived in Guangzhou Province yesterday, where local patients gave up their hospital rooms to make space, state TV reported.

The confirmed death toll from the earthquake rose to 41,353, Cabinet spokesman Guo Weimin (郭衛民) said yesterday. Another 32,666 remained missing. The government has previously said the final deaths will surpass 50,000.

State-owned firms suffered losses worth 30 billion yuan (US$4.29 billion) in the disaster, Li Rongrong (李榮融), chairman of the Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, told reporters in Beijing.

Officials had said earlier that all companies had been hit with 67 billion yuan losses from the quake.

Also see: Anger is growing among bereaved parents of Sichuan Province

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