For the millions made homeless by the quake, including many who suffered disabling injuries, the task of rebuilding their lives has yet to begin.

 

Hospitals in the region have been stretched to the limits, while many of the most severely injured have begun to be transferred to other provinces for treatment.

 

In depth: China quake


Map: Quake disaster zone

Pictures: Quake devastation

China's fast response

Video: Homeless cramped in temporary shelters

Video: One family's loss in
Sichuan earthquake

Massive tent cities have sprung up in the heart of the disaster zone, as the government looks to provide emergency shelter and stave off the threat of disease.

 

But few have any idea when or if they will be rehoused.

 

In the countryside, many farmers now live in encampments of makeshift shelters with their homes too damaged or too unsafe to live in.

 

"We don't have anything. We don't know where we're going to find money to rebuild our village," 52-year-old refugee Ma Jingsuan told AFP.

 

"We're entirely dependent on the government."

 

On Wednesday Wen Jiabao, China's premier, ordered the despatch of 250,000 temporary steel housing units to arrive in the region by June 30, state media reported.

 

The shacks are similar to those used by construction workers.

 

Survivors face the daunting task of rebuilding
their lives from scratch [Reuters]
The number should reach 1 million within three months, the reports said.

 

In the town of Beichuan, close to the quake epicentre, the devastation has been so complete that the government is considering abandoning the county seat and rebuilding it elsewhere.

 

More than 8,600 people were killed in the county and the government is considering turning the town into a memorial, local media reported.

 

Meanwhile aftershocks have continued to shake the disaster zone and heavy rain, forecast for the rest of the week, was likely to worsen conditions for survivors.

 

'Secondary disasters'

 

The rains could also put further strain on already weakened dams.

 

On Tuesday the government warned of the threat of "secondary disasters", ordering experts to inspect dams and reservoirs on 24-hour patrols.

 

Damaged dams have been told to open floodgates to run at low or even empty water levels.

 

Across China donations have flooded in to help with relief operations, with more than $1.8bn collected as of Wednesday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

 

Combined with international contributions the total amount donated stood at $3.6bn, the agency said.

 

The government has issued a stern warning that anyone caught misusing or delaying the distribution of relief money will face severe punishment.