Without bodies, 'I can only set tombstones'

By Hu Yongqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-13 07:29
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ZHOUQU, Gansu - At 7:30 pm on Wednesday, our driver drove north to take the five of us, a batch of reporters from China Daily, from Zhouqu to nearby Dangchang county, where we planned to spend the night.

The 72-km journey, which normally takes one hour, lasted nearly four hours, as torrential rain began just 10 minutes after we set out.

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On our way, rocks and mud rolled down the steep hills, making our journey extremely difficult and dangerous. More than 10 landslides, as well as many stones as big as smart-sized cars, rushed down to the road along with the pouring rain.

We were forced to stop halfway as two cars in front of us were trapped by thick debris flow. Everyone in the car felt nervous and even a little scared because we doubted that anyone would be able to come and help us in case of an accident.

I glanced over at my colleague, sitting next to me. He was writing the text message "I really miss you, son" to his family.

Finally, a worker with a dredge cleaned the road after a wait of more than one hour.

We took the same route back to Zhouqu the next morning and heard that a Jeep on the same road as us last night was completely buried by a mudslide.

"The rain was so heavy, I dared not take off any clothes to sleep just in case of emergency."

Without bodies, 'I can only set tombstones'

This was the typical response I got when I talked to some rescuers who slept in tents 1.2 km away from the east side of Zhouqu county.

Cold instant foodstuffs and mineral water were all we could get here. Also, the communication signal for cellphones was very unstable no matter where you were in Zhouqu or Dangchang.

I came across many villagers from the neighboring countryside who had arrived here either for help or looking for their missing relatives.

Bori, a 63-year-old Tibetan woman, told me that the landslide had killed five of her family members in Zhouqu. Her nephew was the only survivor.

"If I can find their corpses, I am going to prepare a funeral; if not, I can only set tombstones for them," Bori said with eyes full of tears.

The sudden natural disaster has definitely changed the local people's lives. The survivors will need lots of time to recover from the pain.