Page last updated at 15:50 GMT, Thursday, 5 June 2008 16:50 UK

Quake lake evacuees' waiting games

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Mianyang, China

A Mianyang resident folds a tarpaulin for his tent in front of the Mianyang Train Station on 5 June 2008. The clock is stopped at 1428, the time the May 12 earthquake struck
Many Mianyang residents have fled to higher ground

Homes, shops and offices all along the rivers that run through the city of Mianyang are deserted - most people have left.

Even the tents that housed families immediately after the earthquake struck last month have been abandoned.

Fearing flood waters could inundate the city, people have fled to higher ground to set up new tented communities.

The evacuation was ordered because water is building up behind a number of natural dams formed during the earthquake.

The fear is that these will burst, sending millions of cubic metres of water tearing down river valleys, flooding everything in its path.

Sweltering heat

In one area of Mianyang alone, 41 new camps have been set up on higher ground. They are now home to 80,000 people.

One of them, on Fule Mountain, is the new temporary home of Shi Haibin and 13 other family members. They share two adjoining tents.

Earthquake survivor reads with her child outside a tent on 31 May 2008
Evacuees are doing what they can to live as normal a life as possible

The 34-year-old is not working - his insurance firm is closed for the time being - so he spends his days sitting in a hot tent.

It is so hot that the family has to cook its main meal of the day in the relatively cool evenings.

Temperatures have reached above 40C and a number of people have been treated for heat stroke, say local people.

"We're not allowed to go home even though my house is just below the hill," said Mr Shi, who is expecting a long stay on Fule Mountain.

People are doing what they can to live as normal a life as possible. The camp has a first aid centre, and shops have sprung up.


Chen Yong, 46, brought most of his store's wares up the hill on a motorbike to set up shop in his new tented village.

He sells dried noodles, biscuits and other snacks. Business is good, though not in the middle of the day when most people escape the heat.

Others, such as Jiang Xianzhi, are keen to keep abreast of the latest news. They want to know when they will be able to return home.

Evacuees relax in a mah-jong hall
Many evacuees play games to relieve the boredom

When the BBC visited Mr Jiang's tent, he was watching the earthquake coverage on a TV powered by a car battery.

His seven-year-old son, Jiang Tao, was not at school and sat beside him.

"At the moment, they have closed the school, but they'll open it again after the water's gone," said Mr Jiang.

Many in the camp are trying to make the best of a bad situation - a cool, dark Mahjong hall is doing a booming business.

Life goes on, said the shirtless owner Pan Qinggui, as he sucked on an ice lollipop.

"Some of the people who have been evacuated can't work, so they come here for a bit of entertainment and to keep cool," he said.

Crammed full of excited mahjong players, the hall was certainly the noisiest place in the whole camp.

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