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Absent Help From Authorities, Locals Take Relief Work Into Their Own Hands in Flood-Hit Central China

A volunteer team helps rescue flood-impacted villagers in Xinxiang City, Henan Province, China, on July 25, 2021. (Provided to The Epoch Times)
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Eva Fu | New Tang Dynasty

Two days and two nights. That was how long it took for more than 400 villagers in a flooded Chinese town to raise the walls of a dam to protect their homes from rising waters. It took just a few hours for officials to tear it down.

When the villagers protested, the authorities pepper-sprayed them.

With the fortifications dismantled, the flood currents swept the village unimpeded, submerging crops in water about 3.3 feet deep while causing a power and water outage.

Villager Wang Yan (pseudonym) cried as she recounted to The Epoch Times the desperate sight in her hometown of Qimen in Henan, the province in central China now inundated by floods.

“What I told you are all facts, but this content can’t be posted on Douyin,” she said in an interview, referring to the Chinese name of the video-sharing app TikTok.

Authorities have also been releasing additional water from upstream, according to Wang and fellow villager Li Liang (pseudonym) who described the village’s current state as a lone island.

“We villagers’ only hope is for upstream to discharge less water and not to act too fast, so downstream has time to drain some water away,” Wang said. Otherwise, “we’re doomed.”

Video: Cars Float Down A Road After Devastating Floods In China
A video shows cars floating down a flooded road in China.

To date, the flooding has affected about 12.9 million people, or roughly one in nine people in the province, and destroyed about 267,000 acres of crops, according to official data. The authorities’ disaster response, or lack thereof, has compounded their woes, according to Wang and many others.

Donation Challenges 

The government-backed Red Cross Society of China, not affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross, has also faced accusations that it lacks transparency.

Qiu Kai, a businessman in Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital and largest city, initially saw that the Red Cross had chosen to send flood relief packages on behalf of a coalition of businesses. After talking with a manager at the Henan Red Cross, he donated 1 million yuan ($154,254) under the agreement that he would have control over how the money was spent. But after the money was sent, all he received was a receipt from the organization.

Frustrated, he asked the charity’s manager for a refund, and was told they were “powerless” and “can’t handle it.” “Perhaps next year,” the person told Qiu. He canceled the donation account in frustration.

The Chinese Red Cross has been plagued with credibility issues for years. It has struggled to win back trust ever since 2008, when it mismanaged donation funds destined for the survivors of an 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan Province in southeastern China.

Qiu has purchased boats, water pumps, life jackets, buoys, and ropes totaling more than 50,000 yuan ($7,712), which he had planned to donate to local authorities, he said. But he’s been turned away each time.

“No one was there to receive the goods,” he told The Epoch Times. “There was no one to receive the items nor sign for them.”

Qiu spent seven hours at one emergency management center alone.

He ended up calling the city’s mayor and other officials and was rebuffed. One of the officials told him that the city was “relatively stable now and you can send these to the places that need them more.”

“I talked until I was exhausted,” Qiu said.

Much of the relief packages are now sitting in a warehouse.

Help From Beijing ‘Nowhere in sight’

Dozens of civilian-initiated rescue teams have arrived in the province to offer help.

Damaged Songshan Road in Zhengzhou after Floods.jpg
The damaged Songshan South Road of Zhengzhou after 2021 Henan floods – credit: Wzl19371, wikipedia

Zhang Ye (pseudonym) is serving as a member of a rescue team from the neighboring province Hunan. Zhang said they go to every flood-ravaged home to see if there’s anyone inside. They then take the residents to a safer area where local volunteers take over.

The authorities were “nowhere in sight” as they carried out the rescue work, he told The Epoch Times.

Villagers have greeted them with enthusiasm, Zhang said, noting that local children have acted as their guide.

With the villagers’ help, on July 25, his team rescued about 236 people stranded in one village—some from their rooftops.

“People give us directions; we just run to wherever is needed,” Zhang said.

On Saturday night, Zhang’s group had to evacuate from their lodging organized by locals because of the incoming floodwater.

They moved to a gas station located at the highest point of the village. The locals sent them fresh eggs and blankets.

“The villagers didn’t want us to leave, and we told them we wouldn’t,” Zhang said.

They fell into a short sleep. When they got up at around 4 a.m., everyone had a blanket over them—the work of the appreciative villagers.

It showed how “indispensable” their labor was, Zhang said, noting that they were just “doing what they can.”

Gu Xiaohua contributed to this report.

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