VILLAGERS in the New Territories have survived the floods, but face a threat from houses made unsafe by the rising waters. Many buildings were unsound before the flooding. But now they are even weaker and in danger of collapse after up to three metres of water swept through the low-lying border villages. North District Officer Timothy Tong Him-ming said: ''This is one of our main priorities. We need to get the materials in there to strengthen them.'' The many elderly people living in the half-dozen worst-hit villages face a life of stinking squalor unless they get help. The floods covered everything with sticky mud, and the elderly lack the strength to clear it up. ''Government cleaners from the Regional Services Department can take away the rubbish outside the houses,'' Mr Tong said. ''But they are not responsible for the insides of the houses. We have some volunteers in there but they cannot do everything in one day. ''We need more people to come forward to help.'' There are fears that the $1 million in relief granted by the Chinese Charities Fund may not be enough. The North District Office in Fanling has so far accepted 400 applications for emergency relief, with an estimated 200 still to come. The office has literally emptied its safe, handing out $300,000 to affected villagers. According to an informed source, the final total of $1 million in aid was only agreed after fierce bargaining as the floodwaters rose last Sunday night, with some officials trying to compromise on $500,000. As many as 50 villages are still affected, with Lowu, Ho Sheung Heung, Ping Che, Ta Kwu Ling and Fung Hang among those worst hit. Lowu residents were still clearing up the mess last night. Many villagers have lost everything to the floods. Their belongings may not have been swept away, but the damage from water and mud has been ruinous. Mud is everywhere - halfway up trees, inside fridges and covering televisions. Nearly every cupboard and chair has been wrecked as the water lifted off the lacquer finish. The villagers have had to wash every piece of clothing they had, and put all their possessions in the street to dry. Until Friday, 56-year-old Yu Shui-hau made his living taking boxes of tea leaves and instant noodles to Lowu station to sell. He made $80 profit on a good day. Now the floods have destroyed all his stock. ''I've lost at least $15,000,'' he said as he cleared up the mess. ''But I don't want to leave. I can't afford to rent anywhere, not even a government flat.'' ''This is a very sad case,'' said Mr Tong outside Mr Yu's half-demolished home. ''We've given him the maximum, $1,000 yesterday and $5,000 today, but that only covers a fraction of what he has lost. ''The ones I am most concerned about are the poor and the elderly, because they do not have the resources to help themselves. ''People here can't afford flood insurance, otherwise they would not be living here.'' No one died in Lowu, but it came pretty close. Cheung Oi-mui, her husband and their two teenage daughters were trapped upstairs by the rising flood waters. ''We managed to carry in some of the elderly neighbours and others joined us until there were eight of us,'' she said. The water was at the top of the stairs and there was no way out. We were just praying to God that the rain would stop. It did for two hours and the water went down.'' Their fridge, air conditioner and Toyota car were caked in mud. ''We don't want to live here anymore,'' Mrs Cheung said. ''I've lived here for 20 years but I've had enough.'' In Lowu and throughout the flood-hit border, tales of courage seem quite common. Mrs Cheung cannot work because of heart trouble, but when the water was up to her neck she carried elderly neighbour Ma Oi to safety. Wu Cahn-tin, representative of Lowu village and vice-chairman of Ta Kwu Ling Rural Committee, dived into the swirling flood waters several times to rescue trapped people. ''It's a miracle no one died,'' said Nigel Ashmore, divisional police commander of neighbouring Ta Kwu Ling. ''We were very, very lucky.'' Mr Tong said: ''We estimate there are 30 families, more than 100 people, who might be eligible for rehousing in this village alone. ''But many don't want to leave, especially the elderly. This is their home, and they want to stay here for the rest of their lives. So we want to protect them by installing a siren alarm to give them early warning of floods.''