Strong tremor provides early test Monday, July 20 2009
By Celine Sun
The first batch of Sichuan houses built with funds from the Homes for Hope project passed its first test when a powerful aftershock rocked the area late last month.
The houses are being built in Qingquan village in Mianzhu city , where thousands of people were left homeless by an earthquake on May 12 last year.
Building of the houses is partly sponsored by the Homes for Hope project, a charity initiative by the South China Morning Post to help the villagers rebuild their lives. It aims to provide housing for more than 900 households.
Construction of the first batch of 160 single-storey houses in the village is expected to be completed next month. However, the "quality test" came much earlier than expected. At about 2am on June 30, Mianzhu was hit by an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale, reportedly the biggest aftershock in the area for the past year.
The tremor was so powerful that many houses undergoing repairs collapsed or cracked.
Wang Zhiyun, onsite project manager for Homes for Hope, said the first thing he thought of was the unfinished houses in Qingquan village, which was only seven kilometres away from the epicentre.
"We rushed to the construction site at dawn. It was a big relief for us to see that all our houses had survived the quake, and there was not even a tiny crack in the walls."
Hundreds of villagers also flocked to the site early that morning to check on the condition of the houses.
"They were relieved to find their future homes were unscathed," Mr Wang said.
Sixty-six people were killed and more than 95 per cent of the buildings in the village were damaged or destroyed in the magnitude 8 quake in May last year. Villagers have since been living in temporary shelters that are hot in summer and cold in winter.
The Homes for Hope project, launched by the Post in March, provides construction material such as concrete and steel bars to build quake-resistant houses for villagers.
Most of the work on the first batch of 160 houses has been completed, with white tiles and green or red roofs. The new houses are built to withstand a quake of up to 8 on the Richter scale.
Onsite project managers monitor the entire purchasing process and take samples for laboratory tests from time to time to ensure the quality of the materials.
Chuck Li, who is in charge of the Homes for Hope project, believed it had reached a crucial stage, as large-scale construction had started on all the 900-plus houses. "We do feel the pressure to build the houses as soon as possible. Yet we will keep insisting on quality instead of speed to ensure people have a safe home," he said.