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An opportunity in Mianzhu City?
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By David Ferguson & Keen Zhang

China.org.cn correspondents reporting from Sichuan

Mianzhu is a typical small modern Chinese city. It lies on the road northwest from Chengdu towards the mountains. It is part of the metropolitan area of Deyang, and has a population of over 200,000.

Mianzhu was one of the largest cities hit hard by the earthquake – the magnitude in the area was around 7 – but mercifully casualties were low.

Like most small cities of its type, it does not have a large downtown area, nor does it have many high-rise apartment blocks. Most of the central residential accommodation is in terraces of low-rise buildings, generally six floors high because this is the limit above which elevators are required.

Many of the city's apartment blocks are old, possibly 20 years or more, but very few of the buildings collapsed. During our visit we only saw one that had been completely destroyed, and it turned out that this was an old hutong block that had already been condemned and was uninhabited. There were no casualties there.

For the most part the city's buildings held firm, but the vast majority of them did also suffer serious structural damage. Cracks run up the facades from the ground to the roofs, and the foundations are buckled. They are no longer safe, and they have all been evacuated. A huge part of the city's population is now living in the streets.

Queuing for food in Mianzhu.

When we arrive in Mianzhu, it is lunchtime. The first thing we see is two long lines of people queuing for food. We stop to chat with them. One of the stalls is manned by the Chongqing Lanyu Hotpot Company. Its staff members are generously providing free food to the homeless people.

The first people we speak to are not happy. They do not feel that their local authority is doing enough to help. One old lady is desperate to talk to us. She tells us that she had to buy the materials for her shelter herself – not a tent, just an arrangement of polytarps. It is not hard to understand that there are no tents left to be found in Mianzhu.

One or two other residents make similar comments. This is the first time we have encountered criticism of the relief effort, and we decide to go further into the city to see if the feeling is widespread.

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