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House winter storm victims in four months
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The Chinese government has promised to help all those whose homes were damaged in recent winter storm to build permanent houses in the coming four months, said Vice Premier Hui Liangyu on Sunday.

"The restoration of damaged houses must be finished by the end of June though the task remains very tough," Hui said at a meeting on reconstruction.

The severe winter weather, which hit 21 of the 31 provincial divisions in Chinese mainland, has claimed 129 lives and destroyed 485,000 houses. An estimated 1.66 million people have lost their homes and are living in temporary shelters.

Hui asked local governments to work out preferential policies for those who needed to rebuild houses such as subsidies and providing cheap construction materials.

But, they should respect the will of the residents when helping them rebuild, he said.

Local governments can advise on where and how to build safe and affordable houses, but must take account of residents' opinions, he said.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs said earlier this month that the first raft of central government subsidies has been allocated to people with damaged homes.

As a national standard, the government will give 1,500 yuan (US$205) for each room in a damaged house.

"Relief funds and materials will reach the victims promptly," Hui said, adding that poverty-stricken regions and needy families would also enjoy preferential policies on heating, health care and education services.

In central Hunan Province, one of the worst-hit regions, each family that lost their home would receive 5,000 yuan (684 dollars) from the government and be exempt from housing tax and 80 percent of personal income tax.

Hui urged all sectors of society to be actively engaged in relief and reconstruction.

The government and the Red Cross Society of China and the China Charity Federation have to date received more than 1.06 billion yuan (US$145 million) in donations for disaster-affected people.

(Xinhua News Agency February 25, 2008)

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