Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 16:17 UK

Life in limbo for China's quake-hit

By Daniel Griffiths
BBC News, Sichuan province

Ma Yuanyou, in the rubble of his house
Mr Ma wants to rebuild his business, but he does not know when he can

It has been one month since the earthquake hit Sichuan province in southwest China, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving millions homeless.

One of those left with nothing was Ma Yuanyou, who I visited just after the earthquake.

We stood in the ruins of Mr Ma's home and restaurant business.

At that time the 40-something businessman told me he wanted to get building quickly and re-open his restaurant.

But one month on, nothing has changed. The building is still a pile of rubble.

Mr Ma seems his usual confident self - but something is not right.

"The authorities have told us we have to wait until they've sorted out their plans for rebuilding," he said. "So that means we can't start work on a new restaurant."

So now Mr Ma spends his days helping friends out with odd jobs.

"Without the restaurant, I haven't got work or any money coming in," he said. "I'm not sure what's going to happen next. Things are really uncertain at the moment."

"We have to rely on the authorities for everything," his wife added. "They give us money and food, and our water and electricity are working again.

"It's not much, but we get by. I'm hoping that the government will give us a better life than we have now."


There is some good news. Mr Ma has moved to some temporary accommodation.

It is a traditional house built around a courtyard, with fading whitewashed walls and peeling red posters with gold characters that promise wealth and a happy family.

Mr Ma's mother, at their temporary accommodation
People have nothing to do, Mr Ma's mother says

It is small and cramped, but this is where Mr Ma lives with his extended family of nearly 20 relatives.

Mr Ma's 70-year-old mother is one of them. She often helps out with the household tasks.

"This is all we can do now - cooking, eating, sleeping," she said. "That's all there is at the moment."

She says their temporary home has been shaken by some of the thousands of aftershocks that have hit Sichuan since the earthquake.

"I'm not scared," she says. "If they're going to happen, then they're going to happen. There's nothing we can do."

You get the feeling that Mr Ma is thinking exactly the same thing.

There is nothing he or his family can do, they are helpless. They can just wait and hope things will improve.

Revive Sichuan

But Mr Ma and his family are more fortunate than some.

In Mianyang city, more than 3,000 people are camped out in the shadow of a sports stadium.

The Ma family, in Mianyang
The Ma family say they depend on the government for everything

Everyone is sleeping out in the open on blankets spread across the ground, their few possessions gathered around them.

They have got no work and nothing else to do, so many spend much of the day sitting watching television.

One couple, also called Ma, were there with their baby son, born just days before the earthquake struck.

They have decided to call him Revive Sichuan.

"This is no place for a newborn baby," said Mrs Ma. "I'm really worried about his health, especially if we have to stay here much longer."

Mr Ma is worried about work. "No-one here has a job," he said. "We've got nothing, we have to rely on the government for everything."


Nearby, a group of children are playing games. The government has set up a school and organised activities for the many children here.

Children exercise at the stadium in Mianyang
Officials want to organise activities for the homeless children

The aim is to make life as normal as possible - but it is not that easy.

"The children were deeply traumatised when they came here," one youth worker said. "Many wouldn't even talk to us. That is changing, but only slowly."

Young and old - many want to leave. But the authorities say it could be months before they are moved into temporary housing, much longer before they have a permanent home.

Some people are losing patience.

Mrs Wang lost her child in the earthquake. She wants a new home and a new beginning.

"I want to move on, but how can we make any plans when we're stuck here?" she asks.

"I don't want to rely on the government. If the authorities would just give us a home, we could make a fresh start."

No-one here really knows what happens next. They have no homes, no work, no money and many are still grieving for loved ones.

It is too early to think about the future. The challenge for them is making it through each day as best they can.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific