China quake rebuilding rush shows power and pitfalls

Wed May 12, 2010 7:50am EDT
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

YINGXIU, China (Reuters) - Construction cranes, armies of workers and a forest of homes have replaced the corpses and shattered buildings that were all that remained of Yingxiu two years ago.

This small town in a steep valley was one of the worst-hit places in China's devastating earthquake of May 12, 2008.

Now it is at the heart of feverish rebuilding efforts, under pressure from top leaders to complete a three-year reconstruction plan ahead of time.

China's ambitious blueprint for recovery from a disaster that killed nearly 90,000 people is testament to its rising wealth and the mobilizing ability of its government. The ruling Communist Party has promoted the effort as a model for national unity.

But survivors and experts said misspending and grandiose planning could undermine the rebuilding, just as a similar top-down approach threatens rapid growth in the rest of China.

Quake survivor Yao Xianqun lives in a makeshift shelter built from wood salvaged from her ruined farmhouse, overlooking frantic construction on houses a contractor is rushing to complete.

"I wish they could have just given us the money and let us get on with building for ourselves," sighed the 53-year-old.

All the new homes will have ethnic exteriors, intended to reflect the local Qiang culture. Yao says the new house will be cramped and dark and too close her neighbors.   Continued...

<p>Workers reinforce the ruins of the Sichuan earthquake in Beichuan county, Sichuan province May 8, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer</p>