August 11, 2006

Chaos, confusion follow in Chinese typhoon’s wake

By Ben Blanchard

LANPING VILLAGE, China (Reuters) - Lin Xianglian was
cowering in his kitchen from the strongest typhoon to hit China
in half a century when he heard a roar and the house next door

"I didn't dare go look what was happening. The wind was so
strong my wife and I together were leaning on the front door to
stop it blowing in and water was flooding in the back," recalls
farmer Lin, 68, sipping red-colored tea from a metal bowl.

"We could do nothing as my two neighbors got buried alive."

Aid arrived in time for them to be dug out alive, but Lin
says he has no idea where his friends are now or if they
survived their injuries.

"Nobody has told us anything. Nobody has been round to help
clear up. It seems we've been left on our own," he says through
metal-capped teeth in uncertain-sounding Mandarin.

Typhoon Saomai punched into Cangnan county, where Lin's
village is located in the eastern province of Zhejiang, on
Thursday after authorities had moved hundreds of thousands in
the densely populated commercial province to safety.

As of 11 p.m. on Friday, the official death toll stood at
105 with at least 190 missing, but some people in the remote,
mountainous region said they suspect it could be much higher.

"I heard hundreds died. The government has shut off
villages where the death toll is really high to stop news
getting out," said a fashionably dressed youth, who declined to
be identified, waiting to cross a washed-away road and get

The Communist government, determined to maintain stability
at all costs, has a habit of covering up bad news, although
disaster death tolls are no longer supposed to be state

Mistrust of the government is common in Zhejiang, which
lies far from the capital, Beijing, and where a strong
entrepreneurial spirit means the private sector is stronger
than almost anywhere else in China.

A multitude of mutually incomprehensible dialects only adds
to a sense of independence and wariness of authority.


In Cangnan town itself, knee-deep flood water, fetid and
mixed with silt, sewage and motor oil, lapped at passing
pedestrians' feet and flowed into shops on the main street more
than a day after the storm passed.

Rubbish sat stewing in the more than 30 degree Celsius (86
Fahrenheit) heat, along with shards of broken glass.

"The quality of people isn't very good here. Nobody wants
to clear up," said resident Chen Shaohe, holding his daughter's
hand and surveying the damage from a dry spot. "The reaction of
the government has been slow, but what do you expect?"

Further down the road, Zhang Shiqiu looked forlornly at the
remains of her red-brick, black-tiled house, crying quietly.

"Gone, all gone," she whispered, rocking slowly backwards
and forwards from a perch on the rubble.

In the fishing village of Xiaguan -- right where Saomai hit
with winds of 216 km (134 mph) per hour, more powerful than a
1956 typhoon that killed more than 3,000 -- one house appeared
to have exploded outwards, blasting bricks several meters
(yards) into the street.

Workers offloaded blocks of ice, which they said were to
help preserve bodies, for the two-hour drive up a narrow road
clogged by fallen trees and rocks that runs so high it passes
through cloud, toward the worst-hit villages in Cangnan county.

At least 41 villagers, including eight children, were
killed when a house collapsed in the town of Jinxiang, only an
hour's drive from where the typhoon made landfall, Xinhua and a
local official said on Friday.

In Lanping village, Lin sat in his candle-lit kitchen and
pondered rebuilding his own damaged house. But he was

"I saw the great typhoon of 1956. This one was only so-so
compared to that," he said.