More tents needed to improve camp life

By Hu Yinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-05-23 07:21

MIANYANG, Sichuan: Tents. That's what are needed the most in Jiuzhou Stadium now.

"We're still short of tents," says Wang Xiaogang, deputy publicity chief of Mianyang. This is the umpteenth time he's said this in his temporary office on the second floor of the stadium, the first and largest relief camp for quake survivors. "Take a look in there and you'll understand."

About 10 m away, just beside the entrance, lives a family of six, also surnamed Wang, but members of the Qiang ethnic minority.

Like many of the other 20,000 survivors staying here, the Wangs too fled from Beichuan, one of worst quake-hit areas. But they did so only after persistent rain flooded their Yunli township on May 17.

They reached the stadium after a 100-plus-km journey across five mountains, taking turns to carry 15-year-old Wang Liyao, a girl with congenital heart disease, on their backs on May 19. By that time no mattresses were left.

But despite that, "we are thankful for everything", says Liyao's grandmother Wang Fengxiu.

"There's enough food and water here. We know conditions are tough but the government is and will be helping us," she says. "And the greatest thing is that we're all alive."

The 62-year-old, however, regrets not having taken out the piglet she had bought on May 11, or reaping the expected bumper harvest of corn, wheat and potatoes this year. "I really didn't want to leave home. Our house collapsed, but we still could've stayed, but for the rain."

Liyao's father Wang Jun too blames the rain for their exodus, but his tone is milder because his two children, Liyao and 10-year-old Wang Xianghao, are safe in the stadium.

"I worked in Mianyang as a driver and was on a trip to Dujiangyan when the quake struck," he says. "I learned about its magnitude only after I reached Dujiangyan. I rushed home immediately and took my family out of there I'm happy things are improving now."

Improvement means small things such as the two thorough daily disinfection sessions, availability of safe drinking water and three meals a day.

Relief work was not totally up to the mark during the first few days after the quake, says Wang Xiaogang.

The government was caught by surprise when people began pouring into Jiuzhou. And since no one had or checked ID cards, people who came first took away the lion's share of the relief materials. Some even took away six to seven mattresses and dozens of cloth sheets, leaving latecomers with nothing.

"The government sent us here with relief ID cards on May 19, and things have got much better since then because now everyone gets a fair share of the relief," says 15-year-old Li Xin, a grade-nine student of Beichuan Ethnic Middle School.

"But I usually sleep through mealtimes and miss the food," he says. "And when there's food, the volunteers (who distribute it) say I'm a grown-up, and don't give me instant noodles ... Do I really look that old?"

The more than 170-cm-tall teenager scratches his head, feeling a bit shy as dandruff fly off his scalp. Instant noodles are reserved for senior citizens and children only, while adults get lunch boxes, containing mostly rice and some meat.

Sixty-year-old Luo Renkun, who looks at least 10 years younger than his age in his camouflage coat and shoes, holds himself responsible for not getting the noodles every time. "They say I look too young," he says with a chuckle.

Luo is from Beichuan's Zhicheng town, most of whose residents, including all his family members, were buried on May 12.

He has been living in Jiuzhou on porridge, rice and some meat and water for the past six days. "The government has outlined great policies and spent a lot of money on us. But so many people are affected (by the quake) and I know we have to wait," he says. "After all, people are still trapped in the quake-hit areas waiting to be rescued."

Luo, Wang Fengxiu and the other senior citizens in and around the stadium may not have to worry about employment when the situation returns to normal. Children too don't have to worry about missing classes and disrupting their education because tent schools, which can hold up to 2,000 students, have been set up outside Jiuzhou Stadium.

But adults like Wang Jun have to wait till the fear of strong aftershocks eases so that they can go back to work. In fact, they may have to wait till things become absolutely normal. And that, a local university volunteer says, could take another month.

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