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China quake refugees still facing uncertain future

by Staff Writers
Dujiangyan, China (AFP) Aug 26, 2008
More than 100 days after a powerful earthquake devastated much of this region in southwest China, Li Kuilan still faces an uncertain future, having lost her husband and her home.

Li is among millions of residents whose lives were destroyed by the May 12 Wenchuan disaster and who were forced to move into hastily-built refugee camps now dotting the quake belt in Sichuan province.

She sells dried bean powder in the "Happy Family Garden," a refugee camp of about 8,000 people made up of rows upon rows of neat white and blue prefabricated homes in once-scenic Dujiangyan.

"We lost everything to the quake. For us the future is very uncertain because I cannot make any money selling bean powder," said Li, 54.

"Yesterday I sold two yuan (0.26 dollars) worth of bean powder. That is not enough to feed a family with four mouths," said the widow, who lives in the camp with her unemployed son, his wife and a four-year-old grandson.

Dujiangyan and its 600,000 people, nestled at the edge of the Himalayan foothills on the western corner of the fertile Chengdu plain, is only about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the epicentre.

This week, the city was bustling with clean-up and rebuilding efforts in full swing as residents sought to return to normal amidst the empty shells of buildings that still teeter on the brink of collapse.

But amid the rush to rebuild what was lost, there is a lingering feeling among many refugees that their plight could last for a long time yet.

Li, for one, expects to stay for at least three years, but others say that life in the "temporary housing" could last up to eight.

The most devastating earthquake to strike China in over 30 year left up to 88,000 people dead or missing, while about 10 million others were made homeless or relocated due to damage to their towns, villages and homes.

"We hear a lot about earthquake aid and help from overseas," said Luo Wenquan, a 41-year-old woman trying to sell cakes in Happy Family Garden.

"There are big plans to create jobs and help the people, but it is not clear how this will help my family out. Most people are resigned to finding their own way."

According to government figures, 978,000 urban households have been relocated to 3,400 refugee camps like Happy Family Garden.

For the 3.48 million rural families that lost their homes, the government has promised rebuilding subsidies.

"The government is doing what it can, but I'm afraid that it will not be enough," said Luo.

Her husband has taken off to look for work elsewhere, leaving her to raise their three-year-old son on the meagre income from the cakes.

"We were given a 10-yuan (1.3-dollar) daily subsidy for the first three months after the earthquake, but we spent that long ago," Luo said.

Residents in the camp appeared to be mostly elderly, female or children, living in cramped, basic quarters. Kids seemed happy riding around on bikes or playing basketball and other sports.

Earlier this month, the government issued a report calling for nearly one trillion yuan (145.7 billion dollars) in reconstruction funds to build new homes and schools and create jobs for one million people in the 51 worst-hit counties and cities.

The government has already set aside a 10-billion-dollar budget for reconstruction this year, roughly a quarter of the money spent in preparation for the Beijing Olympics that closed Sunday.

Despite the immense hardships facing quake survivors, most maintained a cheerful outlook despite a rather pessimistic view of the future.

"The government is doing what it must do. We are thankful for all the help and concern of all the Chinese people and the people from all over the world," said Zheng Jianguo, owner of a Dujiangyan shoe store.

"We will need a lot more money. This earthquake was too terrible. Things are much better than three months ago but still we will need more money and help for a long time to come."

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Japanese scientists seek quake secrets in Parthenon design
Athens (AFP) Aug 22, 2008
Japanese scientists will next month look into seismic resistance secrets in the design of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon which has withstood scores of quakes, a senior Greek archaeologist said on Friday.

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