China Earthquake Survivors Look To Future

Jiang Jiarui is a fighter. The 10-year-old quickly recovered after losing a leg in China's devastating Sichuan earthquake. But now - finally - she's going back to school and she's trying her best to be brave, CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reports.

"While the other kids were catching up in class, I was stuck in the rehab center," she explains through a translator.

But when Jiang arrives, she's relieved to spot a few familiar faces. Only a quarter of her classmates made it out of their school alive.

High school senior Zhao Chunling is also starting fresh. She's working double-time to keep up after losing her hand in the quake, though she refuses to complain.

"The boy trapped beneath me used his arms to dig me out of the rubble, but he didn't survive," she says through a translator. "I think about him constantly."

May's quake claimed 80,000 lives, but it also left an estimated 50,000 people dealing with serious injuries.

Survivors considered themselves lucky to be pulled alive from the quake's wreckage … but when the joy subsided, the reality of being disabled set in.

The Chinese government extended free medical care to quake victims, leaving the hospital system stretched to the max.

CBS News met He Chuan Tao days after she was pulled out of the remains of the factory where she worked as a chemist. Back then, she lost both her legs, but was just amazed to be breathing.

But months later, Tao's literally at a standstill. Her doctors say the prosthetic legs issued by the government are too heavy for her, and her poor farming family can't afford the lightweight kind she knows are made in America.

"With better prosthetics, I would be able to walk on my own and find a job," she explains through a translator. "I don't want to be in a wheelchair my whole life."

Learn more about Tao and her family - and find out how to help victims like her at Couric & Co. blog.
But even if she can walk, Tao's problems won't end. Her family's savings funded her college degree in chemistry, but, like all of the quake's disabled, she'll compete with millions of able-bodied people for a place in Sichuan's shell-shocked economy.

"The greatest risk is that they will be marginalized and perhaps paid to stay at home," said Constance Thomas, the director of the China office of the International Labor Organization.

Perhaps the grown-ups will be able to learn from Sichuan's children - that surviving the unimaginable can offer up strength they never knew they had.
  • Christine Lagorio

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