ZHOUQU, Gansu - As I entered the Ganan Tibetan autonomous prefecture - especially when we were about to drive into the mudslide-stricken Zhouqu county - I saw signs everywhere: "Beware of landslides and falling rocks!"
Those signs were a reminder that we were approaching the scene of the devastating Aug 8 landslide, which swallowed half the county.
Along the 150 km section of the road from the provincial capital Lanzhou to Zhouqu, I saw hills after hills made of sands, red or yellow earth - almost all of them scarcely covered by grass.
Soil erosion is more than noticeable - rainwater scoured down the hills leaving clear tracks on bare sand hills.
The hills were dotted with holes, some big enough to accommodate 10 basketballs.
Mud, rocks and earth had slid down and lay thick in the valleys. There was dust floating in the air.
"It's like yellow fog," our driver said, trying hard not to hit an approaching car.
Chou An, a 45-year-old local farmer, said: "Every year, when the rainy season arrives, landslides are not far behind."
He has been searching for his missing brother for three days.
In Chou's Shimenping village, not far from the county seat, mudslides in recent years had filled a deep valley with debris, he told us.
That also explained the prevalence of a unique water drainage facility here - the bridge-like flume - which channels excessive water from mountains standing tall above the road.
Before I came here, I had learned from the County Archive of Zhouqu that massive floods and landslides had occurred 23 times in the county between 1950 and 1990.
The Lanzhou Morning News had reported that 1,245 square km, or 42 percent of land in the county suffered from soil erosion in 2005.
I thought the figures spoke volumes of the results of environmental damage.
But then, I entered Zhouqu.
And as I watched people, carrying instant foodstuffs, helping each other amid the stench of rotting corpses, I realized, figures are just some numbers.