Monday, August 04, 2008
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Olympic torch arrives in earthquake disaster zone

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[August 04, 2008]  MIANYANG, China (AP) -- The Olympic flame will be carried Monday around the track of a stadium that just weeks ago housed thousands of Chinese earthquake victims, as muted celebrations begin in one of the final stages of the global torch relay.

The arrival of the flame in Sichuan province's shattered town of Mianyang seemed to help raise the spirits of survivors, and torchbearers said they hoped it would give people courage.

"It's a way to encourage the victims to rebuild. The torch is a symbol of strength and will encourage them to carry on the tenacious struggle," said Hu Lu, 27, a businesswoman and one of the 88 torchbearers.

HardwareThe torch will be carried around the Jiu Zhou stadium, where thousands of earthquake refugees were bused to from wrecked towns across hilly stretches of Sichuan in the days after a massive 7.9-magnitude quake struck the western province on May 12, killing almost 70,000.

"The Sichuan people will have greater confidence to rebuild their homes and have a better tomorrow," Lu said.

After Mianyang, the torch will go to the provincial capital of Chengdu on Tuesday, before heading to Beijing for Friday's opening ceremony of the games. The current segment had originally been scheduled for mid-June but was postponed to support disaster-relief efforts.

"I'm very excited. This is a hard-hit area. During all the aftershocks, people needed hope," said Pan Rongwu, 42, a businessman who transports agricultural products.

"They needed to look ahead. The torch in Mianyang is a type of hope for the future and for rebuilding," said Pan, as he puffed on a cigarette. "We're so glad it's here."

The province has made swift progress since the disaster, which left 5 million homeless.

Reconstruction is well under way, and new routines have been established in temporary settlements that have sprung up across the quake zone.

Mianyang was also the largest urban area directly under threat from the Tangjiashan lake, the biggest of the 30 lakes created by landslides caused by the quake. The lake is no longer considered dangerous after troops built an emergency sluice system to drain it to safe levels.

[Associated Press; By AUDRA ANG]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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