Helping hand for those in need

Updated: 2016-10-07 07:43

By Liu Kun in Wuhan and Hou Liqiang in Beijing(China Daily)

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From earthquakes to trapped cats, one Hubei rescue team has tackled every type of emergency situation

When outdoor sports enthusiast Xiang Dong established a rescue association in 2009, his main aim was to help others like him who might have become trapped or gone missing in China's wild places.

His civil rescue team, however, has now had its fair share of international experience, including in the April 2015 Nepal earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000.

Xiang, who also heads an intelligent control systems company, discovered his enthusiasm for outdoor sports while studying in Canada in 1998.He kept up his new interest after returning to China and eventually set up a mountain rescue association in 2009.

In 2011, the 49-year-old expanded the association to become a 30-member rescue team, specializing in geological disasters in urban and aquatic areas, as well as mountainous environments.

He named the team after the clouded leopard, which is known for its climbing abilities. Now, the number of team members has jumped to more than 200.

"I never thought to make it so big, but there are so many like-minded people," Xiang said.

The team consists of people from all walks of life in Wuhan, Hubei province, such as businessmen, professors, doctors, and retirees. But they all have one thing in common: the belief in saving people, Xiang said.

Firm in this belief, the team has now helped out with various emergencies, from the Ya'an earthquake in Sichuan to the Ludian earthquake in Yunnan and a shipwreck in Hubei, as well as numerous smaller incidents such as removing hornets' nests and saving trapped cats.

They were the first foreign volunteers to arrive in Nepal after the earthquake on April 25, 2015, carrying with them a number of high-end devices, including unmanned aerial vehicles and life detection instruments. Wang said his team was the first one from China to use unmanned aerial vehicles in rescue work.

During their fruitless search for survivors in Nepal, Xiang's team of volunteers worked tirelessly over three days in four different areas and their efforts were always greatly appreciated by the locals, he recalled.

"Every time when we finished with one task, the local people around us applauded and some policemen also saluted us," he said.

"Though many of us have seen people being rescued on TV after a huge disaster, this seldom happens. We are more often faced with death. But as long as there is hope, my team will not give up."

Danger is never far away in a disaster area, and Xiang's team nearly came a cropper in Ya'an in 2014 when a huge rock hit their command vehicle while they were inside controlling an unmanned aerial vehicle.

"I was frightened, but luckily the rock only damaged a car door," he said.

Xiang encourages his team members to undergo exercises with policemen and firefighters to improve their rescue skills and help keep insurance costs down.

Despite this, the purchase of 16 unmanned aerial vehicles and a series of other high-end devices that help with rescues in heavy smoke, fog and darkness has not come cheap.

Xiang estimated that he has spent more than 6 million yuan ($900,000) kitting out his team, yet he refuses to accept donations.

"Money could easily trigger conflicts among team members. Right now, all the money comes from me, so nobody can complain and all of us are concentrated on our work," he said.

"My biggest takeaway from running the rescue team is that it has made me realize that nothing is as important as life."

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Helping hand for those in need

Members of the Clouded Leopard Rescue Team from Wuhan, Hubei province, work at the earthquake site in Nepal in April 2015. Photos Provided To China Daily

 Helping hand for those in need

Members of the rescue team give food to victims of the 2014 Ya'an earthquake.

 Helping hand for those in need

Rescue team members work at the earthquake site in Nepal.

(China Daily 10/07/2016 page5)