'Hit this and yell loudly'

Updated: 2011-05-11 08:19

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)

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'Hit this and yell loudly'

The Earth was juddering. But Zhang Zhougang had no idea why or what to do.

"We'd never even heard of an earthquake. We didn't know what one was," the 42-year-old farmer from Qianfo village in Sichuan province's Anxian county says.

"All we knew was that everything was shaking We've learned a lot about natural disasters since then."

The 2008 Wenchuan earthquake killed 36 residents and damaged all 392 of the village's houses, destroying 85 percent of the dwellings. In July 2009, a landslide buried 12 houses, killing an elderly woman. Another rockslide in August 2010 buried 28 homes.

"The landslides were in some ways worse than the quake," village Party chief Chen Jun says. "At least with the quake, there was rubble. The landslides buried every trace."

The government has since helped the village develop emergency preparedness systems. And the NGO Oxfam has provided more than 200,000 yuan ($30,797) in emergency aid and 601,500 yuan to pave 2.4 km of road to the mountain village.

The landslides repeatedly delayed the road's construction, Zhang says.

Before the road was paved, it took an hour to reach the bottom of the mountain. It now takes about 10 minutes by motorbike, villagers say.

"The road will absolutely save time during a disaster," Oxfam's Sichuan earthquake relief and rehabilitation program officer Ran Jianwei says.

The main components of the government's disaster preparedness plan are the use of a radio to monitor announcements about disasters broadcast from town, the selection of villagers responsible for informing others in the case of a disaster, and government training of residents and student training in schools.

There is also the alarm - a large gong next to a sign that reads, "If a disaster occurs, hit this and yell loudly".

Other measures include the posting of signs that list mountainside emergency shelter locations and their operators' mobile phone numbers.

The local government has been relocating residents from the most disaster-prone areas. It has also been pouring concrete on the mountainsides to fuse the earth and stones so they don't avalanche.

Zhang Guiyin's mountainside home and 6.5 hectares of rapeseed were destroyed in the quake.

Rather than rebuild on the geologically hazardous site of their old home, the 42-year-old's family borrowed 2,000 yuan from villagers and 10,000 yuan from the bank to buy an old two-story house for 60,000 yuan. But this house was filled with a flashflood of rock in 2009 and again in 2010.

"It sounded like a roaring train," Zhang recalls of the 2009 avalanche.

"We were standing on the mountain at 5 am, watching it rush toward the house we'd just bought. I was so worried."

The next year's mudslide left a skirt of muck, like a bathtub ring, about a meter up the wall.

"Officials came in government cars to tell us there might be a mudslide," she says.

"But I didn't want to go because I just needed to make sure the house was OK. (But when) we saw the rocks rushing toward us, my brother grabbed me, and we started running."

The house's foundation was destroyed. It took six months to earn the money to fix it.

Zhang's husband earns 80 yuan a day as a migrant worker but uses almost all of it to pay for living in the city, she says.

She can't read. Only about 90 Qianfo residents can, the deputy chief of Anxian county's wildlife protection bureau Wang Tao says.

"If women graduate from school, they won't live here," Zhang Zhougang explains. "If they can read and write, they'll look for opportunities outside."

But Zhang Guiyin, who along with her husband used to earn 8,000 yuan a year as miners in rural Beijing, doesn't see many opportunities.

"I'm afraid another landslide will happen this year. I just don't know what to do if it does," Zhang Guiyin says.

The government has advised her family to relocate. "If we could earn enough money, we'd move somewhere safer," she says. "But, for now, we have to stay here."

China Daily


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