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Landslides Wreak Havoc in Mountainous Regions

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Residents of Fendang village in Nanping, Fujian province, clear debris on June 26 after a landslide destroyed their homes.

Residents of Fendang village in Nanping, Fujian Province, clear debris on June 26 after a landslide destroyed their homes. [China Daily]

Villagers in Fujian struggle to recover after losing loved ones and homes. Zou Guofu and his family had been sifting through the wreckage of their home for more than two weeks.

Any salvageable clothing or appliances were quickly added to the small pile of possessions, after a landslide triggered by heavy rain killed family members and destroyed their house in Fendang village in northern Fujian Province.

"I just want to find a quilt, so that my granddaughter doesn't have to sleep in a huddle with her grandmother at night," said Zou, 57, as he looked at the 6-year-old girl play with a broken television set among the ruins.

It took just five seconds for his house to be wiped out by a raging torrent of debris on June 18, burying nine family members. Most escaped unharmed but Zou's mother and uncle were killed.

"We have two houses and we stayed in the one further from the mountains when the heavy rain hit. We thought it was safer," said Zou, Fendang's former Party secretary, who has several stitches above his right eye where he was hit by debris.

"Luckily, my son and daughter-in-law were away picking up their marriage certificate at the time, so they avoided the disaster," he said, before pointing at a mound of mud and adding: "That was their room. It was crushed by large falling rocks."

Zou and his surviving family members are now living nearby at his brother's farm, which was not damaged in the storms.

Torrential rains - the likes of which have "not been seen for 100 years", according to elderly residents - battered Fujian for almost a week in mid-June, sparking a series of mudslides.

About 4 million people were affected, which left 78 dead and 79 missing, according to figures released by the provincial authorities.

A total of 1 million people now need to be relocated, while the direct economic losses from the disasters could be as high as 14.4 billion yuan (US$2.1 billion), show the official statistics.

Among the worst hit areas was Yanping, a district of Nanping City, where the village of Hongxing was completely destroyed.

Once home to 200 people, the village is now silent except for the sounds of the chickens, ducks and dogs scavenging for food. Its farmland has largely been washed away, while the trucks half-buried in the river stand as reminders of the devastation that occurred here just a few weeks ago.

After witnessing non-stop torrential rain for several days, cadres decided on June 18 to gather residents in an assembly hall on the only flat ground in the village in the belief it would keep them safe. They had no idea of the tragedy to come.

At about 1:30 pm, a violent landslide tore through the building.

"It was like a bomb blast," recalled 40-year-old Liu Jinnu, who had been standing outside at the time. "The entire hall disappeared in the blink of an eye. Everything was washed away."

A casualty report issued by the district government said 20 people were killed and eight others are still missing, although villagers say they are also presumed dead.

Liu, who lost four members of his family in the disaster, managed to escape before helping to pull out at least 10 people.

"My 13-year-old son also saved two people," he said, "but the water was so strong that we quickly ran out of stamina."

"The roads were blocked by rising water and landslides were happening all the time," added Zhang Jiazhong, 33, who was among the first to alert the authorities. "I thought we were all finished."

Rescue teams eventually began to arrive at 7 pm and took three hours to evacuate all the survivors, he said. About 110 have since taken refuge at the Mingcui Theater in Nanping, which city officials set up as a temporary shelter.

"The people here get free meals every day and donated clothes are also available," said Zhao Zhouping, a coordinator at the shelter. "Those who are staying with relatives get a 20-yuan allowance per day to cover living expenses."

As well as helping survivors, Zhao is responsible for arranging cremations for the dead and helping people who arrive in search of missing loved ones.

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