Quake victim Guo Chengxing has been seeking refuge in a tent for more than a month since the disaster hit Sichuan province, but his house in Wenchuan county remains spotless.
Every day, the 58-year-old returns to clean the home he bought a year ago with his life savings. Whenever an aftershock occurs, Guo throws down his cleaning cloth and flees the building.
Yet, Guo is not sure how long he can continue this routine. Wall cracks caused by the 8.0-magnitude quake are growing larger by the day. Continuous landslides from a nearby hill have buried the first four floors of the building just behind his house.
"Can we still live in here?" Guo asks as he stares at the cracks running through the bedrooms and living room.
It is a question puzzling the other 107,000 residents of the county, close to the epicenter of the May 12 tremor.
The county seat of Wenchuan also lies ominously on top of three fault lines, making its 40,000 residents vulnerable to potential tremors. Similarly, potential disasters such as landslides and mudslides threaten the lives of those in mountain villages.
Other quake-hit areas in the province share Wenchuan's worries.
Seven towns and three county seats have reportedly applied to be relocated, a draft reconstruction proposal prepared by related government departments has showed.
As the central and provincial governments study the reconstruction plans for the region, a number of experts are advocating for a massive relocation of residents from Wenchuan's uninhabitable areas.
Some say that the suggestion, if carried through, could alter the fate of tens of thousands of quake victims made homeless by the disaster.
Wenchuan's county seat lies about 70 km northwest of Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu. It is surrounded by bare mountains and nestled in a narrow valley upstream of the Minjiang River. Covering an area of 3.53 sq km, the place used to be home to about 40,000 people.
With abundant hydropower and mineral resources, the county seat had grown from a small village in the 1950s to one of the most prosperous towns in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang ethnic autonomous prefecture.
If not for the quake, new buildings and factories would continue to sprout on its fringes, encroaching on the narrowing riverbed.
At first glance, visitors to Wenchuan are likely to overlook the damage caused by the tremor. The facades of most buildings appear to be intact, with few structures collapsed.
But like Guo's home, cracks have crept onto their insides, making them dangerous to enter and even costlier to dismantle, compared with those already being reduced to rubble.
"These are standing debris," said Zhang Xianwu, director of Wenchuan's urban construction bureau, in an interview with China Daily late last month. "If we want to reconstruct the county seat, more than 95 percent of the buildings need to be torn down."
A strict enforcement of building codes helped ensure most of the county seat's structures were left standing, Zhang said.
Previous earthquakes in Aba, which is said to have occurred more frequently than any other place in China, reportedly forced local authorities to insist that all the buildings adopt proper quake-resistant structures.
More than 50 earthquakes with a magnitude above 4.75 struck the region between 1949 and 1990, Aba records showed. In 1933 and 1976, three quakes with a magnitude of more than 7.2 hit Wenchuan, narrowly missing its county seat.
"Now, only about one-ninth of the area in Wenchuan's county seat is still safe for human habitation," said Yin Zhi, director of the urban planning and design institute of Tsinghua University.
Yin, who was citing a study by the Sichuan geological survey bureau, is now leading a team of 20 experts organized by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development to the area. Since May 18, the team has visited most of the towns in Aba to prepare the reconstruction proposal for the ministry.
Shortly after the quake, the Sichuan geological survey bureau also sent a team of geologists to the quake zone to evaluate damages. According to their reports, the three fault lines running beneath Wenchuan's county seat pose a major threat of future quakes.
In a conference held this month by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, most experts agreed that new buildings in Wenchuan should be kept 500 m away from the fault lines, Yin said. This means only about one-ninth of the area in the county seat, or 0.4 sq km, is still safe for habitation.
"The remaining plot can support no more than 5,000 people," Yin said. "The rest of the residents all need to be relocated."
Other than the threat posed by the geological faults, fear of disasters such as worsening sandstorms and continuing landslides are keeping Wenchuan residents awake.
"We now have a phobia of three things," said Yu Shizhong, a retired primary school teacher of the region. "Sunny days, rainy days and the hills around us."