Piles of relief goods meant for victims of the Sichuan earthquake six years ago have been found rotting in a storeroom, sparking anger at a local party chief who has been accused of trying to cover up the find.
The mouldy, foul-smelling piles of food, clothes and other materials were found hidden in a storeroom near the village office of Sichuan’s Santai county, near Mianyang city, after residents complained of a bad smell.
Santai county is about 150 kilometres from Wenchuan, the epicentre of the 7.9-magnitude quake that killed 87,449 people. Levelling entire villages, collapsing schools and buildings and damaging homes and farmland, it was China’s most devastating earthquake in more than three decades.
When county employees found the source of the odour, they were surprised to find the storeroom half-filled with sacks of rotten rice weighing 225kg, instant noodles, biscuits and expired bottled water, the Beijing Youth Daily said.
The report said the cache was found last Wednesday and officials were immediately asked to investigate.
Guo Fangping, party secretary of Xinsheng village, rushed to the site and ordered onlookers to leave. He sent for cars and workers from a neighbouring area to clear away the goods.
Later that evening, Guo ordered staff to clean the storeroom until only bits of rice were left.
Villagers reportedly took videos of the proceedings. One user uploaded two videos on Monday showing people sorting through the rotten piles and the room being emptied, according to online reports. However, the videos could not be found today.
After the quake, cargoes of relief goods poured in from around the world as search and rescue teams tried to carve a path into many Sichuan areas that were isolated for days. More than 5,000 perished in Mianyang alone.
Most of the goods found in Santai were manufactured in 2008, according to their labels, and were similar to ones donated to victims after the May 12, 2008, quake, residents said. This indicated they were relief goods.
The incident sparked heated discussion online, with many internet users questioning why these were hidden, wasting away for six years.
Ji Shenghui, party secretary of Santai, yesterday said the goods – including two boxes of noodles, two boxes of bread and six cases of bottled water – were already expired, and the clothes were already damaged at the time of relief operations in 2008.
He did not explain why these were stored and not disposed of years ago.
Ji said the nine sacks of rice were not relief goods, but New Year gifts to villagers in 2009. He said the bags got soaked during transport and were left in the storage room.
Ji also said Guo, who rushed to make the embarrassing find disappear, would be suspended for “mishandling” the situation.