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Temporary Shelter

The statistics from last year's earthquake are staggering: 90,000 dead or missing, and five million people homeless. Within a week or two, temporary camps sprung up all over the region - rows and rows of blue tents bearing the characters for "disaster relief" in white. I visited this camp in Yongan Township on May 25, just two weeks after the quake. Huge woks maybe three or four feet across had just been delivered, and residents were building brick stoves to house them. Families were sleeping eight or ten to a tent. It was warm the day I visited, and one man peered out at me and muttered, "We're steaming in here, like baozi!" (Baozi are those steamed meat buns that are a staple around here.)

THEN (May 25, 2008): A tent city in Yongan Township Andrea Hsu/NPR hide caption

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Andrea Hsu/NPR

NOW (April 18, 2009): A temporary housing camp in Yingxiu Andrea Hsu/NPR hide caption

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Andrea Hsu/NPR

As of late summer, those tent camps were phased out and everyone moved into a different sort of the temporary housing - white buildings with blue roofs in neat rows, with poured concrete paths in between, and satellite dishes on the roofs so residents can watch TV. Each camp has everything an old neighborhood would have: a clinic, a post office, a Communist party office, a few eateries, play areas for children, some set up by aid organizations.

Some of the camps, like one I visited in Dujiangyan yesterday, are huge and sprawling, housing many thousands of people. The one I saw yesterday was built on land that had been leased to developers, but had not yet been developed. After the camp is torn down, possibly by the end of this year, the land will go back to the developers, and up will go condos.

For people in more rural areas, I imagine it's a real adjustment to live side by side with neighbors, with no land in between. We've heard that in some places, the government is urging people to rebuild villages in a similar fashion — that is, in rows, rather than scattered about the land.

Driving out to the earthquake zone, it's striking how many of these camps dot the landscape. You drive for awhile and see one on a hillside, drive a little longer and see another down in a valley. The patches of blue and white, set against the greens and browns of the land, remind me of band-aids.