Quake Victims Face Grim Winter

Many among the millions of people made homeless by China's devastating May 12 earthquake are facing winter without temporary housing, bedding, and heating equipment.

Sichuan six months Quake survivors in tents in Sichuan, six months after the May 12 earthquake.

HONG KONGSix months after the devastating earthquake of May 12, residents in remote areas of southwestern China's Sichuan province are now facing winter without adequate shelter or heat, even as economic hardship starts to bite amid sweeping job losses among the country's migrant worker population.

In a bid to equip everyone to ward off cold as temperatures start dropping, local officials have put up temporary housing in some areas and handed out quilts, warm clothing, and heating equipment. But many areas have yet to receive the promised aid.

Yingxiu township deputy Party secretary Cai Daimin said the first priority was to get people ready to face the cold months ahead.

It's a bit warmer in the chicken shed. We wrap ourselves with plastic sheeting."

Mianzhu quake victim

"We are already sure of being able to provide a quilt and a suit of winter clothes per person, and an electric blanket, and a padded overcoat per household. More have been given out on a case-by-case basis," he said.

"Every household will have a stove, which have already been installed, and the fires already lit."

Stimulus package

China last week announced a massive 1 trillion yuan (U.S.$146.4 billion) package to rebuild ravaged infrastructure and industry in 51 of the hardest-hit counties, pledging to provide basic health care and housing for the millions of people made homeless.

But a resident surnamed Chen from Jiandi township near Shifang city, an area hit hard by the 8.0 magnitude quake, said few of those promises had been realized in his area so far.

"So far, the 40-odd households in our neighborhood have received 40 quilts," Chen said. "That's not quite as many as it should be, right? In reality, the number of things that are missing far outweigh the number of things that are being delivered."

He said no household had yet received any heating equipment. "There is one quilt for each household, whether that household consist of two or three people, or of four or five," he said.

Chen said only a handful of families had been given temporary housing as promised by the government.

Everyone else was still living in tents, which are increasingly cold as the year wears on into winter. Some, unable to bear the cold, had moved back into their former dwellings despite safety warnings, he said.

An official who answered the phone at the Shifang municipal government decline to comment. "Reporters should contact the propaganda department. We can't reply to you directly from here."

Living 'in chicken shed'

In hard-hit Mianzhu city, a family who lost a 17-year-old daughter when the local high school collapsed said they were now living in the chicken shed. No heating had been supplied by authorities.

"We are now sleeping in the chicken shed, where we feed the chickens," the father, surnamed Fan, said.

"The government hasn't issued us with temporary housing yet. It's too cold to sleep in the tent. It's a bit warmer in the chicken shed. We wrap ourselves with plastic sheeting."

Fan lost his daughter when the Hanwang township high school collapsed. He said the weather was now turning colder, with temperatures reaching 10 C at night, and was likely to get colder still soon.

Fan's wife Zhang Xiuxian was detained Oct. 20 after she tried to seek a meeting with school authorities regarding the deaths of teachers and pupils at the school.

Survivors in rural areas said they also faced economic hardships, with many families barely getting by on government handouts.

Scant jobs for laborers

"No one is doing reconstruction work right now," migrant laborer Zheng Shibin from Yingxiu township said. "They are just relying on the small amount of grain they got from the disaster relief effort."

He said most potential laborers were now idle at home, waiting for reconstruction work to begin.

"Some people are experiencing hardship, others are not. The outlook [for work] isn't very bright," he said.

"I am just taking on odd jobs right now. I didn't have a proper job before the earthquake. Now, most of us don't."

Deputy township Party secretary Xu Hongjun said some of the region's economic problems would be solved with the recovery of businesses hit by the quake.

"A lot of the people from around here were migrant workers before the earthquake. Some of them can probably find work mending highways, tunnels, and electricity pylons," he said.

"Then there will be some who apply to the government to find work as migrants in other provinces."

But many of China's millions of migrant workers are already heading home amid a global economic downturn and a wave of factory closures in affluent coastal cities.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and Wen Jian. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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