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Chinas quake survivors weigh future hopes and fears PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Chenjiaba, China, June 09 ( - Close to one month after China's devastating earthquake killed Mu Jianfeng's wife, he finally found time to visit her grave and the battered home where their baby survived in his wife's last embrace.

Until now, Mu was too busy caring for the daughter who survived, badly injured and now in hospital, after his wife Huang Lingli threw herself over her in the May 12 quake, shielding the 3-month-old from the falling roof that crushed Huang.

Mu, his father and sister tramped through bamboo thickets and dangerously cracked slopes for nearly two hours to reach Huang's earth grave near their rural hometown of Chenjiaba in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

Mu, a 25-year-old machinist working in Shanghai when the quake hit, burned incense and ceremonial funeral money before the grave, kneeled and spoke to her in a low, steady voice.

"My wife, I'll care for our daughter and give her a happy, safe life," he said and tossed a handful of earth on the mound. "We will build a new life for her to make you proud."

Nearly a month after the quake that officially killed nearly 70,000, with many still missing and likely dead, the problems of how to build that new life loom over millions of survivors.

The quake refugee camp up the road at Chenjiaba hums with nascent rebuilding. Trucks unload foam panels for huts to replace sweltering tents. Schools are resuming classes under canvas. Communist Party officials hand out aid and orders.

But a journey through the valley town also shows the threats and fears that are also likely to shadow rebuilding.

There are the landslides and swollen "quake lakes", formed when falling hillsides blocked rivers. More testing for the government that has vowed to rebuild their homes, locals worry about when, where and how they can escape the crowded camps.

"We escaped with nothing to our names and so thinking about the future is full of anxiety," said Zhang Zhenxiu, a middle-aged farmer digging a cornfield near where her home was toppled by a huge landslide. "It's as if nothing will be simple ever again."


Chenjiaba lies in a valley of devastated Beichuan county, where green slopes of forests and fields were churned into rust-brown rubble and boulders by the quake.

In Beichuan, troops are still struggling to ease swelling quake lakes. And the slopes along the valley constantly rumble and crack with smaller rock falls.

Locals nonetheless sneak around troop checkpoints to what remains of their homes to gather clothes and tools and feed livestock. Some scoffed at the dangers.

"If it floods, we'll all learn to swim or run for the hills," said Du Caigang, tending his 20 hogs among the ruins.

But villagers' faces often turned somber when talking about their plans. They said they were grateful for the help from the government and charities, but worried the generosity could peter out before they saw new and safer homes and schools.

"I think people here know that there own lives will never be easy again," said Wang Jiyao, a farmer in his 60s cleaning his tent in Chenjiaba's camp for quake refugees. "But what we want is a normal life for our children, so they can just go to school and not worry all the time what will happen."

For families, such as Mu's, there is also the burden of mourning loved ones who were killed in the quake. Villagers must deal, often in a matter-of-fact way, with pervasive grief.

"Nearly everyone here has suffered. But if we thought about that too often we couldn't get through the day," said Mu's father, Mu Zifu, after kneeling near a landslide-covered slope where relatives lay buried.

Mu Jianfeng said he saw no hope in the shattered village, where pigs and dogs foraged through flattened buildings. He will soon take his daughter to Shanghai, where his wife also worked as an accountant before going home to give birth.

"There's no life for her here, not for a long time, maybe never," said Mu. "I don't think it will be ever back to normal again. Too much has changed."
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