HK legislators left stunned after seeing quake devastation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 2008, 12:00am

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen felt 'taken aback' when he saw quake-struck areas during his whirlwind visit to Pengzhou in Sichuan a week ago.

Nineteen Hong Kong lawmakers felt much more when they witnessed the devastation in Yingxiu , the town nearest the epicentre.

'I feel so sad that so many people died in such a short time,' Democrat Lee Wing-tat said.

They held a minute's silence in memory of the dead.

While the chief executive visited only areas close to Chengdu , the lawmakers travelled 100km west of the provincial capital to what is now a ghost town.

The Hong Kong government hopes the itinerary of the legislators' visit will persuade them to approve a donation towards reconstruction in the area. They also visited a damaged aluminium factory and a school in Wenchuan county as well as meeting families living in temporary housing in Dujiangyan .

As debates heated up in Hong Kong about how best to help the quake victims, officials in Sichuan have high hopes the city will contribute to the rebuilding.

Wenchuan county chief Liao Min said the city could not only make a monetary contribution but also help with town planning and train civil servants. 'We need over 100 billion yuan [HK$114 billion] to rebuild Wenchuan,' Mr Liao said. Lawmakers pledged that they would scrutinise any funding application by the government. Still they want to be sure help gets to where it is needed. They posed questions of officials at Chengdu airport's cargo terminal and customs counter where overseas donations were processed.

Asked by Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai if the relief supplies would reach the victims, Du Xiaoyan, deputy director general of the Office of Civil Affairs in Sichuan, said all the materials that they received would reach the needy. Yet some lawmakers said doubts remained.

Although legislators did manage to get to the devastated areas, the school that they visited in Wenchuan suffered less damage than the so-called 'tofu' schools, which collapsed. That is an issue pan-democrats on the trip pledged to bring up when they meet provincial authorities today.

'I will certainly press them on the issue of 'tofu' school, and why 'Long Hair' [Leung Kwok-hung, who had planned to raise the issue] was denied entry to Sichuan,' said unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan. He said he would present a letter from Mr Leung to the officials during the meeting.

Poorly built schools remain a sensitive topic on the mainland. When Tang Kun, a teacher at the Xuan Kou school the lawmakers visited, was asked about the numerous 'tofu' schools which collapsed, killing thousands of students and their teachers, reporters were told to move on to a neighbouring hospital.

'This is an issue relating to construction stuff so I can't comment on it,' Mr Tang said.