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Asia Crisis

China quake survivors look to start again

MIANYANG, China, June 11 (Reuters) - Having lost loved ones and their homes to an earthquake and then what was left of their belongings to floodwaters, victims of China's worst disaster in decades spoke stoically of starting again on Wednesday.

But many did not know when, if ever, they could return to their homes in China's southwestern Sichuan province to begin rebuilding.

"Our home was OK, it wasn't flooded, and that's a big relief," said Wang Shangqin, a farmer from Zhonghe Village next to the river. Like his neighbours, he had been moved to a tent camp on a ridge above his quake-damaged home.

"We still don't know when we'll be allowed back ... I know that safety is important, but we also want to farm, and getting to our fields takes ages from here."

Floodwaters receded on Wednesday, easing an emergency that had menaced areas already devastated by an earthquake which killed tens of thousands and had left millions without homes.

Waters poured out of the Tangjiashan quake lake, the largest of more than 30 caused by quake-triggered landslides, after soldiers blasted away mud and rubble blocking a sluice.

River levels downstream in Mianyang fell on Wednesday after a torrent of muddy water rushed near the town, bringing trees, household debris, televisions and the occasional body.

Residents expressed relief, but many also said they did not know when, if ever, they could return closer to quake-damaged homes beside the river to begin rebuilding.

"It came very close yesterday, but the water didn't enter my home so now I feel very relieved," said farmer Huang Yuanqi, 72, on the river bank opposite his damaged home at Qinglian Town near Mianyang. "We can't wait until we can get out of these tents and back to our homes....We haven't been told when that will happen."

Soldiers remained on guard around low-lying parts near Mianyang, warning residents not to enter or registering those allowed into home villages to farm or tend livestock.

SCHOOL CHECKS

China announced nationwide safety checks for schools -- a volatile issue after many collapsed in the May 12 quake, even while nearby government offices and apartments stayed upright.

The toll from last month's 7.9 magnitude quake stands at nearly 87,000 dead or missing. At least 9,000 children died under schools that collapsed.

"Local governments must carry out a thorough quality check on the public facilities from kindergartens to universities, like school buildings, dorms and public bathrooms," a notice on the Ministry of Education website (www.moe.edu.cn) said.

"For these potentially dangerous buildings, we must stop using them and set up a database for future research."

Brick buildings built before 2001 would be paid special attention, the notice added.

The government has been asked repeatedly why so many schools toppled in the quake. Grieving parents in devastated rural communities have protested against shoddy buildings and claimed corruption.

Lin Qiang, vice inspector of the Sichuan provincial educational department, said last month collapsed buildings might have been more solid "if we educational officials hadn't left loopholes for corruption". (Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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