MIANYANG, China - The thousands of earthquake victims who huddle under the eaves of this city's big, modern gymnasium have brought with them stories of sadness and survival.

A 4-year-old girl with pigtails who is dressed head-to-toe in yellow sings "Little frog, where are you now?" and laughs with a circle of children, entertained by volunteers from other provinces. She's doing much better, a counselor says. During the quake, she saw a wall collapse on one of her friends.

A 36-year-old woman who farmed a hillside outside the city of Beichuan tells how boulders tumbled down from the hills, covering roads and fields. The stout woman grabbed her wheelchair-bound husband - a migrant worker injured in a factory accident - and escaped by hoisting him on her back the way a mother carries a child, walking a day to safety.

Another woman shielded her 2-week-old son with her body as the walls of their home toppled on them. They were trapped in suffocating dust for 20 minutes, until the woman's sister dug them out. She gave her son a name that will immortalize their ordeal - Zhenchuan, short for the earthquake (zhen) in Beichuan (chuan).

At least 69,000 people died in the May 12 quake, and a new threat of flooding from a river-fed "quake lake" has forced the evacuation of 200,000 people living downstream.

Today, 7,000 displaced people are staying at this emergency camp at the Jiuzhou Gymnasium, a winged sports venue that usually hosts boxing and badminton matches. A week ago, there were 30,000, camp officials say. Most of the survivors who came to the camp have returned to temporary houses in their hometowns.

The ones who remain are mostly from the worst-hit area around Beichuan, and they are caught in a frustrating holding pattern: They have nowhere to return and nowhere new to go.

Some are housed 20 to a tent; others are encamped shoulder-to-shoulder on the concrete skirt around the base of the gymnasium.

Deng Jiaping, 51, has been a farmer near Beichuan all his life. He grows wheat, corn, tomatoes and sweet potatoes in an area he says is blessed with clear water and majestic mountains. But he says he does not see how he will ever be able to return. He was working his fields when the ground split open and jutted up more than 10 feet.

"We're scared to go back," said Deng, who wears a donated black overcoat and pants. He says he doesn't see how he will ever be able to push a plow in his disfigured fields - the only land his family has known.

"I don't know what the future will be," he said. "We'll have to wait for the government to relocate us."

For now, there is surprising order in the Jiuzhou camp. There are counselors and doctors, free phones to make calls and reconnect with relatives, piped-in music, and big-screen televisions. Draped all around are banners proclaiming support from the rest of China.

The enemy now is boredom. Adults help with camp tasks such as handing out food rations. Children attend classes in two giant tents and play with volunteers who have poured in from other provinces. But there is little else for people to do as they wait for the government to tell them their next moves.

Volunteers from as near as the city of Mianyang and as far away as Shanghai have flocked to help.

A Christian volunteer group from Inner Mongolia hands out daily hot meals of vegetables and rice. From Guangxi to the east, the Communist Youth League has sent teachers and counselors to work with children and coax the fears out of them.

Some volunteers have just showed up to help. Two women from Mianyang write down the names of missing people from flyers posted on a long bulletin board at the entrance of the camp. The women said they were Buddhist and planned to make offerings to the missing and the dead.

Huan Jianshe, 28, is a migrant worker, originally from Anhui, who renovates homes in Shanghai. He watched reports of the quake on television and could think of nothing else.

He caught a train for the two-day, 1,000-mile journey, arriving at the refugee camp four days ago. He was put to work spraying disinfectant around the camp.

Huan said he had never volunteered like this before but would do something like this again. "I felt like I needed to come," he said.

Some refugees have been reunited with families, easing the trauma of the quake.

Like many young from this province, Liu Zhanyan, 26, and her husband, Yang Xinwu, 31, had headed to the eastern city of Wuxi, near Shanghai, to seek their fortunes.

She had a job in a textile factory; he worked on construction sites. They left their 3-year-old son, Yang Jialing, in the care of his paternal grandmother in a town outside Beichuan.

Liu was at work when she heard the news of the quake in her hometown. She tried to call, but there was no answer. Frantic with worry, she tried to go to Sichuan. But in the immediate hours after the disaster, there were no buses, no trains, no planes.

"I couldn't sleep," she said. "I couldn't work."

The grandmother, Yang Chenghui, 58, made it to the refugee center here and was able to call her son. Five days after the earthquake, the couple arrived for a reunion with their child.

"So many people died in Beichuan," the grandmother said. Her daughter-in-law lost five people in her extended family. Of her own lot, she said: "I have no house, no money to rebuild. We'll have to live somewhere else."

In a week, the parents will take their son back east with them. They said there was nothing left here for them or him.

See a slide show from Jennifer Lin in China

Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.