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Baoxing frets over compensation for quake

Relief workers stage supplies yesterday at a playground in Sichuan's Baoxing county, which saw 26 fatalities in Saturday's quake. Many had feared the worst after contact with the area was lost. Photo: Simon Song

The central and provincial governments may soon face a huge compensation bill in parts of Sichuan hit by Saturday's magnitude 7 quake, with residents of the formerly cut-off Baoxing county expressing concern about whether they will be given enough to fix the damage.

"I wish I will get enough money to rebuild my house, but I'm not optimistic," said Li Xiaofen, who said her house was destroyed in Baoxing, once reported to be one of the areas hit hardest by the quake and the last quake-hit area to be reconnected to the outside world. The death toll from the quake rose to 196 yesterday.

Li said she had very little confidence that the government would pay a fair compensation because there were too many people wanting to claim it.

Local officials had said that 60,000 people were stranded in the county after the quake struck on Saturday morning, with 26 people dead and more than 2,500 were injured. State-run Xinhua reported that all of the country's houses had been destroyed.

But yesterday, after roads connecting Baoxing to the outside world were repaired, people found that the main areas of the county escaped relatively unscathed compared with many other areas hit by the quake.

Rescue workers said the county was likely to return to normal soon, although rural villages built on hillsides were still struggling to obtain basic supplies.

Dr Duan Quanwei, from a hospital in Aba prefecture, which was hit by the devastating magnitude 8 quake in 2008 that killed nearly 90,000 people, said the damage in Baoxing could not compare with that of the 2008 disaster.

"I had thought that Baoxing county was damaged more seriously and that I might have to dig the bodies out from destroyed buildings," Duan said. "But after I came here, I've got nothing better to do than sit in the rescue centre waiting for patients."

I wish I will get enough money to rebuild my house, but I'm not optimistic Baoxing resident Li Xiaofen

Rescue worker Cheng Qiwu, who arrived in the county two days after the quake, said the damage in Baoxing was not as severe as earlier estimates. He said that could be because the roads connecting Baoxing and Lushan county, the quake's epicentre, were damaged by landslides and communication had been cut off.

"People feared the worst when they lost contact with the county," Cheng said.

Fan Chongrong , the deputy head of Sichuan's Geological and Mineral Bureau, said relief work was going well and the frequency of aftershocks had declined.

Villagers, however, insist damage is severe. Some residents from remote complain that they are not receiving enough support from the government.

In Lingguang township, angry villagers took to the streets to protest against the local government yesterday, blaming officials for failing to visit promptly after the quake. They said the officials did not conduct a proper review of their living conditions and spent their time gambling instead.

Some were still angry about a perceived lack of compensation from the 2008 quake.

"They only gave us some of the money that they got from the central government but kept the rest in their own pockets," said Yue Yangxin , 20.

The authorities denied the charges, saying villagers were "emotionally troubled".

"Those [accusations] are not true; I don't even want to engage in a dialogue with them," said Yang Shigang , the deputy head of the Lingguang county.

A person from the Communist Party's disciplinary watchdog in Baoxing who declined to be named said all the local authorities in the county in charge of relief work would be scrutinised to avoid any unfairness during relief work and future reconstruction.

Official media continued to put a positive spin on the response, with Xinhua issuing an English editorial saying China's new leadership had shown "capability and efficiency".

It was "the first big natural disaster that President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have faced since coming to office" Xinhua said, adding the new leaders had made relief work a "priority" and had "stood the test" of the disaster.

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