Victims condemn relief failings

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am


Victims of last weekend's flooding in Beijing said authorities cared more about their own image than people's suffering as public anger over the official response to the disaster showed no signs of abating.

State media reported relief work was being carried out smoothly, but many people had their doubts, especially those in the outlying Fangshan district, which was the area hardest hit by last weekend's rainstorm the worst in 60 years.

Residents said the government had moved too slowly in cleaning up their neighbourhoods and had failed to reassure the public about the potential risk of water-borne diseases.

Residents in Shengshuiyu village, in Fangshan, were still largely cut off from the outside world. Roads and communications remained cut yesterday.

Villagers said hours of heavy rain triggered a mudslide. Rocks swept through the village, destroying houses, trees and bridges and sweeping away pigs and goats.

Villager Lin Shuhong, whose home partly collapsed in the storm, said she felt scared just recounting what had happened. The 55-year-old was worried about food supplies, water, clothing and shelter.

'It's lucky that no one from my family died or got hurt in the disaster, but my family's livelihood has been devastated,' she said.

Although part of her house still stood, Lin said they were too afraid to take shelter there out of fear it might collapse. 'I lost most of my savings in the flood and we don't even have adequate kitchen utensils to cook. My husband and I now have to live with my ailing parents in their small house higher up on a slope, barely getting by on relief materials.'

Villager Shi Dezhong expressed bitterness as well, saying his village had been forgotten following the disaster. 'Our village was completely cut off for about five days after the main roads were flooded in the storm. It feels like we were totally isolated - it's horrible,' he said.

Shengshuiyu village took its first shipment of relief supplies, mostly instant noodles and bottled water, on Wednesday.

Villager Ma Yanru said the community had yet to receive clean clothes, blankets or tents, which they desperately needed.

Both Lin and Ma complained about the lack of transparency in how the relief materials were being distributed. 'Frankly, we don't trust the cadres and how they distribute relief materials,' Ma said.

Lin said local cadres did not take people's suffering seriously. 'My only wish is that the government help us rebuild our lives. But when I made the request to our village cadres, they told me we were not their priorities and they did not have time to discuss aid or rebuilding.'

Shi, an agricultural technician, said that for a village as big as Shengshuiyu, with a population of more than 1,200, disaster relief was a difficult and sensitive issue.

'Our cadres may be trying hard to make everyone happy, but it seems to be an impossible task because of the scale of devastation, compounded by inadequate outside help and impassable roads and damaged communications systems,' he said.

Shi and his fellow villagers say their biggest concern is personal safety given fresh forecasts about additional heavy downpours in the coming days.

In Hebei town, one of the hardest-hit areas, Tanmugang villager Hao Tianqiao said local authorities told him explicitly not to clean up the mess caused by the flooding.

'Local township cadres said the debris from my home should be left untouched because higher-level leaders and journalists want to see the devastated areas,' said Hao, who ran a fruit farm before the disaster. He estimated his losses at more than 500,000 yuan (HK$615,000).

He and his wife barely survived the flooding and they criticised local authorities for failing to alert them or organise an evacuation.

Hao, 45, lamented that local cadres cared too much about their own image and were busy putting on one show after another to please superiors. Meanwhile flood victims have been largely left to fend for themselves.

'The most outrageous thing is relief materials, from bread to water and milk, have been distributed to everyone in my village. But the truth is, only four or five families, including mine, were severely affected, and most others escaped the disaster relatively unscathed,' he said.

Like the Shengshuiyu and Tanmugang villagers, many people said local government officials were keen to drum up positive media coverage but appeared aloof.

Tian Heng, 70, is from Dongnanzhang village in Hancunhe township, where at least five people were swept up in the flood and drowned. Locals remained sceptical about the government's official death toll, despite its revision upwards to 77.

'Rumours are rife that over a dozen drowned in a local pond filled with floodwaters at least five metres deep,' he said. 'We are not allowed to talk about it as officials deem such discussions as destabilising.'

He said it was sad senior officials were fooled by local cadres who covered up the truth, which only further eroded trust.

'When the city government launched a campaign to control diseases, our local cadres spread white disinfectant along the main road and ignored our flooded houses,' he said.


The rainstorm which drenched Beijing last Saturday was the worst to hit the capital in this number of years, records show