Lifesaving top priority, premier says

Updated: 2013-07-12 00:40

By HUANG ZHILING (China Daily)

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Major evacuation efforts as rain continues to lash Sichuan

Premier Li Keqiang called on Thursday for rescuers to do their utmost to save lives as rain-triggered natural disasters across the country have killed at least 30 people and left 67 others missing since Sunday.

"Governments in disaster-affected regions must improve monitoring, issue early warnings and watch weather conditions closely," Li said.

Lifesaving top priority, premier says

Rescuers race against time to evacuate people as floods continue to sweep through Guanghan, Southwest China's Sichuan province, on Thursday. [Photo/China Daily]

Floods and landslides have affected about 3.73 million people in 17 provincial-level regions, forcing the evacuation of 212,000 residents, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said. Rainstorms have destroyed more than 8,400 houses and damaged another 113,000, causing direct economic losses of 8.56 billion yuan ($1.4 billion), according to the ministry.

In Sichuan province, one of the hardest-hit areas, people are struggling with floods but being helped by rescuers.

Hong Chi wept as she saw her 83-year-old father Hong Tongjin and 79-year-old mother Xiao Kaiqiong after getting off a bus in Zhongxing, a town in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province, at noon on Thursday. The area was hit by a landslide on Wednesday.

"I thought we would never see each other again," said the 40-year-old civil servant from Guanghan, about 120 km from Zhongxing.

Together with six retired high school teachers from Guanghan, Hong's parents had been staying in a rural resort in mountainous Sanxi village in Zhongxing since June 26 to escape the summer heat.

After a landslide caused by rains hit Sanxi on Wednesday, burying eight of the resorts where many senior citizens were staying, Hong was unable to contact her parents until they met at noon on Thursday because communications were cut.

"Soon after learning about the landslide from the Internet, I rushed to Zhongxing, where I spent a sleepless night," said Hong, wiping away tears.

Her parents were among 352 tourists and villagers evacuated from the scene of the landslide on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Chen Jianfu, an official in Zhongxing.

"Sanxi had 800 residents before the landslide. Some 200 are staying in classrooms and dormitories at Zhongxing High School," he said.

Wu Sufang, 71, and her six family members were evacuated to the school from their home in Sanxi on Wednesday afternoon.

"None of my family members had cash when we escaped from our home. But the government provided us with three free meals, and we have quilts donated by the army for the night," she said.

A total of 232 tourists and villagers from Sanxi arrived at the school, which is 8 km from the landslide site, on Thursday.

Hong Tongjin, who witnessed the landslide, said: "It took more than four hours to reach the school from Sanxi. Despite a bus being provided by the local government, sometimes we had to walk in water up to our knees.

"The landslide buried the eight rural resorts within several minutes. I was more scared than in the Wenchuan earthquake (which hit Sichuan in 2008, killing nearly 70,000 people and leaving 17,923 missing). My house shook in the Wenchuan quake, but I saw many people die in the landslide," he said.

Some relatives of the dead became emotional.

One woman at the school hit a man after he asked about her family members.

"Her relatives all perished in the landslide," said Li Kai, a 32-year-old surgeon from Dujiangyan City Orthopedic Specialist Hospital, who is at the school.

Together with 16 medics from four other hospitals in Dujiangyan, Li took it in turns to treat people at the school. They offered help on Wednesday and Thursday to 85 with minor ailments such as colds, diarrhea and bruising.

Dong Lin, an official from the Dujiangyan bureau of public health, said, "From time to time, people whose relatives died in the landslide became hysterical. Four specialists from a mental disease hospital in Dujiangyan are on duty at the school.

"A 35-year-old mother, who believes her 4-year-old daughter died because their home in Sanxi was destroyed, wept all day, saying repeatedly she wanted to die with her daughter. After lengthy psychological intervention by all four specialists from the mental disease hospital, she calmed down."

To prevent epidemics, medics sprayed disinfectant in toilets, classrooms and dormitories at the school and in the town's streets three times a day on Wednesday and Thursday.

"They have sprayed disinfectant in an area of more than 2,000 square meters," Dong said.

Eighteen people have been confirmed dead and 107 missing.

The rainstorm began lashing Dujiangyan at 8 pm on Monday.

"Over 38 hours, the city saw accumulated rainfall of 920 millimeters, nearly three quarters its annual amount," said Hu Defeng, deputy chief of the city's weather bureau.

It is believed to be the severest rainstorm to hit the city since meteorological records began in 1954.