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China Focus: Quake survivors have great expectations for stimulus funds

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DUJIANGYAN, Sichuan, Nov 21, 2008 (Xinhua via COMTEX News Network) -- The contrast is stark when Gou Xiuqiong, an earthquake survivor who makes a living as a hotel cleaner here, talks about her difficult present and her hopes for the future.

One day recently, Gou sat on a long bench on the hotel lawn. About 100 m away stood a row of deserted restaurants that were shattered by the May 12 quake, some with roofs collapsing.

Earning just 800 yuan (114 U.S. dollars) a month and facing the cost of rebuilding her life, she still returned 30,000 yuan to a guest who left the cash in his hotel room.

The psychological trauma of the quake, which killed 3,091 people and injured 10,560 just in Dujianyan, was an invisible presence. But the 28-year-old Gou was upbeat as she talked about life ahead.

"The reconstruction process convinces me life will get better," said Gou. She cleans rooms at the Two-King Temple Hotel, named after the legendary Li Bing and his son, who built the Dujianyan conservancy in 256 BC.

Gou said she has two goals: a new home and her own restaurant, both of which would be facilitated by entitlements. These have taken on tangible shape with local and central government reconstruction and domestic demand expansion moves, which will inject financial support.

SICHUAN COUNTS COST OF REBUILDING

Sichuan Province will need 1.67 trillion yuan to rebuild from the

quake, according to Vice Governor Huang Xiaoxiang. That money would help provide residences for 4.45 million households.

On Nov. 12, the national government announced several steps, including approval of infrastructure projects and a further rise in export rebates, in a wide-ranging attempt to stimulate the economy and ease the impact of the global financial crisis.

These measures followed the Nov. 9 announcement of an economic stimulus package of 4 trillion yuan. As part of that package, the government said it would spend 300 billion yuan on the rebuilding of 51 hard-hit areas in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces.

There are also provincial provisions for subsidized interest on loans in severely damaged areas.

Major industrial, business and tourism enterprises, as well as

infrastructure, transport, agriculture and forestry projects could benefit from the subsidy, the Sichuan Provincial Finance Department said.

The subsidy, in effect from May 12, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2011, will be paid for out of central government funds.

NEW BUILDINGS ARE RISING

In Zipingpu town, where Gou's home stood before the quake, developers are building a tourism compound. They plan to resettle her family in a new and better apartment, said Gou.

"I plan to open a restaurant at the compound" and take advantage of preferential rights pledged by the local government and developers, she said.

Another quake survivor with high expectations is Zhang Min, who lives in temporary housing with his mother and son at the Happy Family compound built by the government of Dujiangyan city.

Zhang, whose apartment in the Nanjie community was destroyed by the quake, also wanted to have a new apartment and a new career as a chef.

The resettlement policy announced by Dujiangyan in November, featuring a "70 square meter ownership exchange" for urban residents, lived up to his expectations.

The city government will complete 3.8 million square meters of housing by 2010 to resettle 41,000 families comprising 123,000 people, said Long Xiaohui, who runs the Dujiangyan Urban and Township Housing Reconstruction Office.

Any city household can get a new, free 70 sq m apartment in exchange for their previously owned land and home, Long said. This system would solve the problems of many quake survivors who lack cash to buy a new residence.

They also have the option of taking a government grant of 25,000 yuan and building, buying or renting accommodation, he said.

"The central and local governments' steps to rebuild and spur domestic demand are an enormous boost to survivors' financial resources as well as confidence," he said. "We will meet survivors' expectations within two years."

For Zhang, who chose the 70 sq m exchange, his next step is a new job.

"I'd like to work in a restaurant," he said. Zhang was a restaurant cook on the date the quake struck.

He said he believed that the restaurant business in Dujiangyan, which is a popular tourist destination, would revive within two years.

JUST HOPING FOR WARMTH

Retiree Zhang Junwen, 60, who is one of about 1,000 seniors living in the Happy Family housing compound, takes a shorter view. She just wants to stay warm this winter.

According to administrator Yang Zhongming, the compound is providing free electric blankets and hand warmers, and the electricity to run them, to residents. They won't have to help pay for the rebuilding of the grid.

"We have substantial resources from the stimulus package to expand and improve the grid to serve manufacturing, infrastructure construction and residential consumption," said Yang Zhengdong, the deputy director of State Grid's Dujiangyan Electric Power Supply Bureau.

The hotel where Gou spends the day cleaning used to have many tourists from Southeast Asia before the quake. Her manager, Xu Yuehua, who is also living in temporary accommodation, takes a broad view of the stimulus plan.

It will "benefit ordinary people in China, and imports of raw material for reconstruction and infrastructure building will also benefit the rest of the world."