Delight at just having a wall again

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2008, 12:00am

Villagers move into new wooden houses

The building is just basic sheets of wood hammered together, but Yang Yunbin says it feels like a home.

'It just felt like I finally had a real wall that I can from time to time lean against, and not just a piece of plastic that you have to be careful about even touching,' the 32-year-old says.

Mr Yang and his relatives were among four dozen families who yesterday afternoon moved into newly built wooden houses erected in the town of Yingxiu, at the epicentre of the May 12 earthquake.

They went up surprisingly fast, considering the government had announced a three-month time frame to build houses for the survivors.

If the PLA soldiers keep up their pace of construction, another 190 families are expected to move out of emergency blue tents in the coming days.

Yingxiu has received little media coverage since rescuers sent injured villagers to big cities for treatment and engineers declared the 57km mountain road to the county's capital, Wenchuan town , would not be fixed anytime soon.

Attention has instead focused on areas to the north, such as Beichuan and Qingchuan counties, where rescue efforts are only now pushing into the more remote villages, and upon the flooding threat posed by the many 'quake lakes' formed by landslides near rivers.

Nevertheless, relief efforts have gathered pace in Yingxiu. Huge cranes flattened a patch of ground to create room for the temporary wooden houses, which sit near a river but far enough away to be safe from flooding.

'We started to work on offering them better houses even before the order from rescue authorities, so I guess we are one step ahead now,' says Tang Guoyong, a PLA officer who supervises the project.

Yingxiu literally means 'reflecting the beauty of mountains in water'. But the beauty will take years to return. The town's most populous areas were destroyed. The buildings that did remain tilted heavily sideways, prey to even moderate aftershocks.

'You don't have to think of your lost families to feel sorrow. The rubble itself is a strong enough reminder to keep every local in tears,' says Zhao Shinan, a villager, who lost two cousins in the disaster.

Teams of PLA soldiers wearing white protective suits sprayed disinfectant across the town as other soldiers recovered corpses from collapsed buildings.

Thousands of people were still missing in the town, with some feared buried by the landslides. The stench of rot hangs heavily along the narrow mountain road but all search and recovery efforts have stopped.

Road builders have set up a steel bridge connecting residential areas along both banks of the river, but efforts to pave the road further north have been largely blocked by the scale of landslides.

The inaccessibility of the road has forced rescue materials to detour to Wenchuan through other repaired mountain roads in the west and north, taking four to five times longer to get to Yingxiu.

Last week, the government announced that Beichuan would be relocated, and the destroyed downtown turned into a memorial.

Residents of Yingxiu, which was hit as badly as Beichuan, have not heard of any such instructions, though there is a possibility the town may be scaled down.

'I heard many people would be moved out to other areas, but our town party secretary told us on Friday we would rebuild our city right here,' Mr Zhao, a farmer, said.

'We should not give up and move out. In my understanding, rebuilding your home means you stand up where you fall, not where you don't have a connection to.'