Quake survivor struggles in China
BY TETSU KOBAYASHI CORRESPONDENT
Earthquake survivor Liu Xuequn, 66, stitches shoe insoles to sell to tourists in Yingxiu, Sichuan province, in January. (Tetsu Kobayashi)
YINGXIU, China--"My living allowance was cut off, but I have no work. When I think of the future, I can't sleep for worrying."
Liu Xuequn, 66, hung her head in the dimly lit room she calls home. With bare concrete walls, it was so cold you could see her breath. There is no heater, so she wears a coat indoors to keep warm.
Life is not easy for people who lost loved ones and property in the Great Sichuan Earthquake that struck May 12, 2008, and left an estimated 87,000 people dead or missing.
Thursday marked the beginning of the third Lunar New Year season since the earthquake.
Many survivors have moved to new housing and are gradually returning to their former way of life, but for others like Liu, who lost their family's breadwinner, there is little prospect they will be able to make ends meet anytime soon.
Yingxiu lies near the epicenter of the quake. Most of the buildings there were flattened. When I visited the town in late January, just before the Lunar New Year, I encountered people moving their belongings into new accommodation.
According to a local newspaper, preparations for the new residences, delayed by landslides caused by heavy rains last summer, are now complete. More than 60 percent of the population of about 6,000 has moved in.
On Jan. 31, a magnificent ceremony, attended by about 2,000 residents and senior Sichuan province communist party officials, was held here to mark the passing of the year.
Liu moved into her new home a few days ago with her daughter and granddaughter, but there is nothing much in the way of furnishings, except beds, a gas cooker and a television.
Liu's husband and her daughter's husband both died in the earthquake. After the quake, Liu lived in a nearby town on a monthly allowance of 2,200 yuan (27,000 yen, or $330).
But her allowance was cut off when it was decided that she would move into new housing. Her daughter is unwell and cannot work.
Liu's only income is from shoe insoles she stitches and sells to tourists for 20 yuan each. Besides her living costs, she has to pay back 30,000 yuan toward the cost of building a new home.
The number of tourists visiting the site of the disaster has fallen significantly.
The insoles that Liu stitches don't sell well. As a result, her preparations to put on a lavish feast for the New Year are not going as she would like.
"I can't get in the mood for New Year. I moved into a new home, but I can't even pay the electricity bill. I lost everything in the earthquake."