Forgotten villagers complain of lack of assistance

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


As volunteers raise money and send aid packages to flood victims in Fangshan in Beijing, residents in Hebei province are being largely ignored by the media, and their relief effort is proceeding at a snail's pace.

Zhang Zhangong , from Gougezhuang village in Laishui county, which borders the capital, said the rain that hit Beijing and Hebei last weekend had destroyed his life. Almost everything he owned disappeared in the disaster.

'My wife and I and our granddaughter barely survived the storm, which ripped down our houses, swept away our furniture and all of our clothes,' Zhang, 47, said.

Gougezhuang, home to the renowned tourist destination of Yesanpo and famed for its stunning mountain and river valleys, was among the hardest hit by the storm, the worst in six decades. A family of three died in the village.

Zhang, who suffers from rickets, and his wife, are digging through the rubble of their home to try to find money they had hidden.

'We were running for our lives when the flood hit and didn't have time to collect the money we kept in some furniture,' he said.

Zhang's fruit farm, which he had been running for the past decade, sat near the banks of the Juma River, and was wrecked in the flood.

'We did not receive any warning from local authorities. We didn't realise it was a life-threatening situation until we saw the water rising quickly in our house,' he said.

'We're lucky that we escaped. But I've lost everything I've worked my entire life for. The blow is simply too big to cope with,' he said.

Like other villagers in Gougezhuang, Zhang and his wife are bitter that the media has reported little on their community's plight and local cadres have not come forward with any help.

'The cadres said we had to count on ourselves, but how can we clean up a mess of this size and rebuild all by ourselves?' he asked.

Other villagers spoke of a visit by a provincial leader a few days ago. 'We saw his entourage. He made a few brief remarks and then left without visiting any families or talking to us,' said one Gougezhuang villager.

Scenes of destruction are everywhere in Gougezhuang. Many houses were reduced to rubble, and roads and low-lying areas remain under a thick blanket of muddy water.

Song Guihai , who owned a small hotel and a restaurant, said he was waiting for the local government to assess the safety of his home and provide details of any relief plans.

Song, 45, said it was too painful to talk about what happened. The flood dealt his business a terrible blow, but he was proud he helped save more than 50 people from almost certain death, including 24 hotel guests.

'I stopped people from running outside when the water level rose quickly after midnight. They would have been swept away by the flood if they had gone outside,' he said.

He confirmed villagers had been mostly left to sort out the situation themselves. The death toll for Hebei stands at 32 people, with another 20 missing. Five villages were flattened.

In Nanyu village, which borders Fangshan, residents were bitter about the treatment they had received. 'We've heard that things are a lot better in Beijing where all the attention is focused and government officials are more competent,' said one villager who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

'Cadres here are corrupt and self-centred. They keep all the relief materials in their offices and refuse to distribute them even though we desperately need help,' he said.

Another villager said the full extent of the disaster in his village as well as in neighbouring villages had been largely underreported.