Relief for town on brink of starvation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2008, 12:00am

Residents greet first trucks since quake

A windfall of food supplies helped a tourist town of 3,000 to sustain itself for more than two weeks after it was completely isolated by the Sichuan quake.

Gengda, a town halfway between Yingxiu - the epicentre of the quake - and the famous panda town on Wolong , was reconnected to the outside world yesterday morning for the first time since May 12.

Five military trucks drove slowly along the narrow, debris-scattered road leading to Gengda. Waiting for them was a hero's welcome - more than half the town's people were lining up, clapping and cheering.

The trucks carried food (packs of rice and flour) and bottled water.

They arrived just in time. The town, which had already been astonishingly lucky during the past 15 days, was nearing the end of its tether.

'I've been starving for two days,' said Chen Donghong, 27. 'I can probably hold up a bit longer, but I'm not sure my old parents can withstand this starvation.'

Like everyone else in town, the Chen family does not store food, even though the town does not grow grain. The residents have found it convenient to get their staples from Yingxiu, a mainly agricultural centre 22km away.

Gengda would have been completely left on its own - as isolated as a barren island in the ocean - had three trucks carrying rice and flour not happened to pass by on May 12.

They were on their way from Chengdu , the provincial capital, to Wolong. Some 10km from their destination, they were stopped by the worst natural catastrophe to hit the country in more than 30 years.

'The disruption of the road ironically saved our lives,' said one Gengda resident.

Dozens of the town's strongest young men trekked 10km to the trucks and carried backpacks full of grain on their shoulders back to the town.

Everybody in town was allocated 1.3kg of rice or flour. That may not sound like a lot, but it was enough to fend off starvation.

Then, just as most households started to run out of rations, Lady Luck smiled on them once again: People's Liberation Army soldiers entered the town yesterday morning carrying food.

The soldiers also began pasting red banners screaming motivational slogans - such as 'United we stand' and 'Courage Conquers All' - on house walls still standing after the quake.

Ye Zhihong, 31, said he appreciated their efforts to inject the town with much-needed hope, but what he hoped for most was that the town's lifeline road would be cleared as soon as possible.

The section of road that just opened was in terrible shape, said Hu Jie, deputy director of the local transport bureau. 'It could collapse at any minute when aftershocks or mudslides strike,' he said.

The other section, linking Gengda and Wolong, probably needs another three months before transport can resume.

Because of the poor roads, Mr Ye and many other Gengda residents feel their salvation is still only partial.

Wan Xueying, 55, who makes a living by selling vegetables to Chengdu residents, said she was unsure about her future.

'Before the quake, vegetable merchants from Chengdu would drive to Gengda every night so that they could ship fresh veggies back to the city every early morning,' she said. 'This road supports my whole livelihood. Now I don't know what to do.'