Image: Quake disaster refugee
Michael Reynolds  /  EPA
A refugee scavenging for possessions covers her nose to protect herself from the foul stench of decay in Chengjiaba in China's Sichuan province on Wednesday.
updated 6/12/2008 5:44:33 AM ET 2008-06-12T09:44:33

One month after China's deadly quake, weary survivors were once again on the move, setting up tents and shelters on city sidewalks after being moved out of the path of a threatened flood.

To showcase the massive aid effort, soldiers, medical workers and politicians gathered Wednesday in Beijing's Great Hall of the People to hear emotional testimonials about its success.

The nationally televised event featured heroes from the quake — a teacher from quake-hit Beichuan, a volunteer nurse from southern Guangdong, the military commander who led troops on a 31-hour march to reach the quake epicenter.

Organized by the Communist Party's propaganda department, it underscored the government's emphasis on positive coverage amid a long and daunting recovery effort. Nearly 70,000 people died in the May 12 disaster, with another 17,000 missing after the 7.9-magnitude quake jolted Sichuan province and neighboring regions.

Rolling back liberties
In the initial days following the quake, China's typically harsh restrictions on media were relaxed, allowing both domestic and foreign reporters unusual freedom in covering the massive natural disaster. But in recent weeks, the government has begun rolling back liberties as hard questions have continued about corruption and shoddy construction of schools.

Foreign reporters have been blocked from some parts of the quake zone as officials sought to rein in public anger over students' deaths. In one instance, parents were forcibly removed from a public protest.

The incidents highlight the challenges in store as China's leaders seek to move forward on rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts.

In Mianyang city, the largest urban area directly downstream from the Tangjiashan quake lake, soldiers on Wednesday helped quake survivors move their belongings yet again while vehicles drove by loaded with plastic stools and bottled water.

Authorities had evacuated 250,000 people out of concern of a breaching of the lake — formed when landslides blocked a river — the largest of 30 created by the quake. Senior military leaders on Wednesday said the threat posed by the lake had ended now that it was draining.

Life still far from normal
Cutting through Mianyang, the Fu River was running high and fast on Wednesday, and life remained far from normal. Many city residents continue to sleep outdoors because of damage to their homes or fear of the aftershocks that continue to shake the region. Many businesses were closed, some with sandbags stacked at their entrances to guard against flood waters.

Although they remained homeless, residents said conditions closer to home were far superior to those in the hastily erected camps in the hills where some had been living for almost two weeks because of flood fears.

At the Taohuashan camp overlooking the town of Qinglian, about 3,000 evacuees were still waiting for permission to return home. Authorities had told them they needed to disinfect the area before it would be safe.

Evacuees were suffering from exposure, with 10 people recovering in a clinic from heat stroke and numerous cases of the common cold.

China has ordered government departments to cut spending to free up reconstruction funds for the estimated 5 million people made homeless, few of whom had insurance.

Planning experts have recommended that more than 30 towns in the quake-hit areas, including the local government seat of Beichuan, be rebuilt elsewhere, according to Caijing, a leading Chinese business magazine.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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