Life and business have largely returned to a state approaching 'normality' in most of Taiwan a month after an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale rocked the centre of the island and killed more than 2,400 citizens and inflicted a minimum of NT$300 billion (about HK$73.2 billion) worth of damage. Most of the island's main economic think-tanks forecasts that economic growth rates, based on national income accounts, will not suffer a dramatic drop despite the tremor and its aftermath. The Taiwan Institute for Economic Research (Tier) yesterday said the island's economy still would expand by about 5.5 per cent this year - about 0.5 percentage points less than the 6 per cent figure anticipated by Central Bank of China governor Perng Fai-nan just hours before the earthquake. However, damage to the industrial sector was significant, such as the temporary loss of jobs by 42,000 workers, according to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics. This was caused in part by serious damage to two important industrial zones in Taichung county. In the island as a whole, according to a survey of 5,984 companies by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), 56 per cent of manufacturers were affected by the quake. Included in this figure were the 27 per cent who reported damage or destruction of factory buildings or equipment and 54 per cent who said their revenues had suffered. Damage to equipment and buildings was estimated at $13 billion. Revenue losses for last month due to the quake and its resulting power blackouts amounted to $50 billion, or an average loss of 8.1 per cent in monthly sales. The surveyed manufacturers anticipate additional losses of $19.1 billion, or 3.1 per cent of revenues for this month. A total loss of $69.1 billion would represent a drop of 1 per cent in manufacturing sector revenues for the current year, the MOEA said. But the real extent of the disaster and the long-term harm to the region's manufacturing and vital tourism businesses can only be appreciated by driving through central Taiwan via townships such as Chungliao and Tungshih. These areas have been wrecked and the once dramatic sight of verdant mountain tops has been ruined. After a month, most cities and towns in the eastern part of Taichung county and much of Nantou county feature streets full of empty spaces. Once business and residential buildings stood there, but these have been replaced with wrecking crews of soldiers and equipment requisitioned under the September 25 emergency decree calling for the destruction of the ruins. On the positive side, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has restored telecommunications and has almost completed restoration of main land transportation links. However, several key bridges that were disabled by the upward thrust or liquefaction caused by the explosive release of energy by the Tselungpo fault remain closed, said Chen Chia-ying, director of the Nantou county district of the National Highways Administration. Deputy Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has directed the central government's reconstruction efforts from Taichung as executive director of the cabinet-level National Reconstruction Commission. He said the focus was shifting gradually from 'top-down' rescue to 'bottom-up' reconstruction.