Vigil goes on after all is lost for some

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 August, 1998, 12:00am

PENG ZEJIA looks after a dyke protecting his neighbours' homes. His own, on the wrong side of the flood barrier, is under 1.5 metres of water.

The Xincha River in Hunan province, linked to the rain-swollen Yangtze River, forced more than 100 members of the Peng clan from their homes six weeks ago.

Yet Mr Peng still puts in 12-hour shifts, squatting under a plastic lean-to in the blazing sun, watching for erosion in an earthen dam that can do him no good.

In exchange, the 55-year-old schoolteacher expects nothing. 'We all have a responsibility. One day it's my turn, the next day it's someone else.' His family has lived in the area for generations and gave its name to the village of Pengzeming.

Before the water began to rise in Pengzeming in June, local leaders handed out shovels and organised teams to reinforce dykes.

'We spent days filling sandbags and working on the dykes,' said Mr Peng, who was sitting with his cousin, Peng Guo'an.

As the water rose, the Peng clan moved furniture on to the dyke, where it stands covered in plastic. After their homes were flooded, Peng Zejia moved with four other families into the primary school where he teaches.

By now, the river has tripled in width to 1.5km, taking on the appearance of a lake.

The river has risen to within one metre of the top of the dyke where Mr Peng and his cousin sit.

Behind the barrier, the rooftops of one-storey houses are below the river level.

Many villagers are going about life normally, looking after children or tending the few dry fields. They are used to living through floods.