06/03/2008, 00.00
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Cardinal Zen: following earthquake, government "opening up more" to world

The day-to-day emergency continues. But the channel for draining lake Tangjishan is ready, the risk of epidemic has been ruled out, and life in the "tent cities" is being reorganised. Protests over the collapsed schools. The government is demonstrating unusual openness to foreign aid, and concern for the safety of each person.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The "daily" emergency continues following the earthquake.  The channel has been completed ( 475 metres long, 10 metres wide, and 13 metres deep) that will drain the water from the 200 million cubic metre lake Tangjiashan created by the earthquake.  Draining will begin in two days, when the water reaches the opening of the channel.  The rain has stopped falling, and the situation seems to be under control, even though the 1.1 million people who live in the Mianyang valley are still ready to flee at any moment.

Today, about 10,000 soldiers continued searching, in the mountainous area around Yingxiu, for the aid helicopter that went down on May 31 with 19 people on board (five soldiers and 14 survivors).  The search is a sort of demonstration of the intention to save each life.

Meanwhile, victims have been cremated or buried, eliminating a possible cause of disease.  Medical teams are working in the stricken areas, disinfecting the tent cities and instructing the refugees, and yesterday the health minister confirmed that there is no spread of disease, thanks especially to the work of the soldiers in clearing roads, setting up tents, and bringing food and water.

In many areas, the people are getting used to living in the blue "tent cities" of the government, which are often set up not far from the rubble.  They have sanitation services and bathrooms, and in the county of Anxian one tent has become a sort of little pharmacy, and another a "bookstore" with  donated books that have been decorated by children.  In another, there is a generator where cell phones can be recharged.  The refugees have food and clothing, but are wondering about the future: many have lost everything. In Yingxiu, the army is using dynamite to demolish unsafe homes.

The devastation is so extensive that the army has not been able to reach all the affected areas.  Today, help finally arrived in the little village of Da'an, in a mountainous area.

The anger of those who have lost children in the school collapses has not diminished. In Wufu, almost all of the buildings remained standing, but the elementary school crumbled on top of 129 students.  Today, like every day, parents are at the site, many holding photographs of their children, in a silent vigil asking for the punishment of those responsible for the poor construction.  The same thing is happening in Juyuan, Hanwang, Mianzhu, and elsewhere, in front of the many collapsed schools.  No one is stopping them, although public assemblies are banned in the country.  This is how thousands of parents spent Child's Day yesterday, a holiday on which families throughout the country celebrate their children.

But hope for the future is also emerging after the earthquake, as Hong Kong cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun observed last night during a Mass dedicated to the victims.  "The government", he said, "has accepted aid from other countries.  It has also permitted foreign media to report on the situation in Sichuan.  This is a demonstration of greater openness".  Previously, Beijing had always refused aid, and had considered natural disasters a "state secret" that could not be reported without authorisation. (PB)

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