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December 21, 2010

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Glad to be home, but residents find no reasons for celebration

Shanghai's winter did not bring chilly winds yesterday, and the sky was clear, making the 28-story building appear even starker in the daylight.

Many tried not to look at the damaged building, which was burned down to its frame in an inferno on November 15 in Jing'an District, when they entered the complex and headed for the two neighboring high-rises.

"At least I won't feel too sad at this weather," said a middle-aged woman carrying four bags in both hands.

In the bags are her toothbrush, clothes, bed sheets, and all the necessities she needs for the home she didn't live in for the past month.

No firecrackers, no congratulations, it was just like any other day when the first of more than 400 households began moving back to their homes in the buildings next to the damaged one - it was a homecoming they felt not worth celebrating.

They gathered beneath the buildings from the hotels or motels which they called home for the past 35 days. They were back.

"Home, sweet home," said 89-year-old Fang Jiachang. who lives alone in a 14th-floor apartment. She called her relatives on the phone to tell them that everything was all right.

By late yesterday, at least 60 percent of the affected households had settled down again in their homes.

City construction authorities had earlier declared the two buildings safe. The heat insulation materials wrapped around the buildings, which were blamed for the quick spread of the fire, had been removed.

After finishing her first dinner at home after 35 days away, Fang looked through the windows at the damaged building for a long time, without saying a word.

Finally, the retired teacher said: "Such tragedy should never happen again."

It may be some days before other residents return.

"The rooms are still smelly," said a man, surnamed Li, who rented an apartment in one of the buildings. Li, who lived with his grandson at the rented house, said the apartment windows faced the damaged building. "It's bad for the child," he said.

The two buildings' 410 households will have all moved back by the end of the year. "Anyway, no one likes to spend the New Year at hotels," one resident said, a feeling shared by many.

To the returning residents, the occasion was bittersweet. Their own homes suffered no damage but they had known many of the burned building's residents as colleagues and friends.

Residents in the two buildings are to get compensation which will vary for each household, said district officials, and further protection and renovation work will continue on the buildings.

They said that fire protection equipment in the buildings will also be improved.

The burned building, some barriers set nearby and flowers laid at the scene were reminders that something tragic happened here - 58 people were killed in the inferno.

But life was returning to normal. Beneath the buildings, a supermarket, a laundry store and a stock brokerage company also reopened yesterday.

As night fell, lights were going on in many of the apartments. The buildings were no longer dark.

"Life goes on," said a woman who carried her dog back home yesterday. The dog did not bark.

"The dog knows it is home," the woman said.


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