JUYUAN, China — In a town where parents are grieving for the nearly 300 children killed when last month's earthquake toppled a middle school, a photograph hinting at shoddy school construction has disappeared from a public exhibition.
The image showed a hand clutching a twisted piece of steel rebar, no thicker than a pencil. The photo was taken at the ruins of a middle school in Juyuan, one of 40 that collapsed in the May 12 quake.
The photo was featured prominently among a collection of quake artifacts when it opened last week.
By the weekend, it was gone, an apparent indication of rising government sensitivity over the issue of shoddy school construction, which has prompted angry protests from parents of the dead children.
Exhibit organizers were reluctant to say why it disappeared.
"We don't know if we were told to remove the photo," said Wu Zhiwei, assistant to the general manager of Museum Cluster Jianchuan, the organizer of the exhibit and the largest privately run museum in China. "And if we were told to remove the photo, we're not sure we could tell you."
School collapses have become one of the most highly charged issues in the earthquake recovery, and one that local communist leaders seem eager to suppress.
The state-controlled media has largely ignored the issue, apparently under the propaganda bureau's instructions. Parents and volunteers who have questioned authorities have been detained and threatened.
Juyuan has become a center of the anger. Police pulled grieving parents away from a courthouse where they knelt this month in an attempt to submit a lawsuit.
Sunday, police cordoned off the area surrounding the town's collapsed middle school, angering parents who had come to observe the 35th day of mourning, a key date in local tradition.
"It's as if we're bad people now," said a man who said he was the father of a dead student. "This is our last chance to burn incense and they don't let us in," said the man, who declined to give his name, underscoring a growing reluctance to be publicly identified and possibly targeted by authorities.
Engineers who inspected the school rubble say many of the facilities were poorly sited and badly built.
The government promises a schools report by Friday.
Flooding still a threat
At least 55 people have died and seven are missing in flooding across a broad stretch of southern China, state media reported Sunday.
More than 1.2-million people have been forced to flee their homes across nine provinces, including Sichuan, which is still reeling from last month's earthquake, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Heavy rain in Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces will further raise water levels downstream, especially in the coastal manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong, Xinhua says. Most of those areas are expected to receive more rain over the next 10 days.