August 12, 2006

Typhoon victims try to pick up the pieces

By Ben Blanchard

JINXIANG, China (Reuters) - A procession of mourners clad
in white sackcloth wound through Jinxiang village in east China
as victims picked their way through the devastation brought by
Typhoon Saomai.

Three days after the huge storm barrelled into the coastal
provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian, the official death toll had
risen to 114 with at least 183 missing. Overall economic losses
are put at well over $1 billion.

Saomai, the strongest typhoon to hit China in half a
century, devastated Jinxiang. The collapse of just one building
in winds exceeding 200 km (124 miles) per hour killed 41
people, including eight children.

Zeng Zhineng's uncle was one of them.

"His house wasn't built very well and couldn't stand up to
the wind," said Zeng, 33, dressed in white, the traditional
Chinese color of mourning. "Lots of people here are poor and
don't have money to build stronger homes."

In another part of Jinxiang, families wept over coffins.

One man, who gave only his surname, Yang, said he had lost
eight members of his family.

"After some houses collapsed we called the police and they
told us to go to a newer concrete building," he said, as a
woman kept watch over coffins bearing pictures of the dead. One
was just a baby.

"People were fighting to get in. When that building fell
in, whole families died."

A generator buzzing in the background kept the bodies
chilled. The scene resembled a war zone.

Power lines lay uselessly submerged under water in fields
or draped across roads. Many houses had had their roofs blown
completely away. Others were little more than rubble, their
contents buried or carried off by the wind.

Some taller buildings had had their top floors completely
ripped off.

What possessions residents were able to save lay drying in
the fierce sun that followed the typhoon.


Saomai made landfall in Cangnan county last Thursday after
authorities had moved hundreds of thousands in the densely
populated commercial province to safety.

More than two days after it slammed into Cangnan and its
myriad of surrounding villages, many people living in remote
mountain areas spent the weekend in halting efforts to rebuild
their lives.

Trucks carrying tiles and bricks rumbled through the
streets. Women in conical bamboo hats swept away the glass,
rotten vegetables and silt all mixed together by the wind and

Farmers in this rural community were hard hit.

"The dam collapsed and destroyed my fields," said Xie
Lunren, sheltering from the sun in the porch of his severely
damaged house. "I don't know where I'll get the money to
rebuild. My rice crop is finished."

Several hundred metres (yards) from Xie's house, Li Canyuan
looked out of the second-storey window of his tiny house, the
roof of which is now reduced to nothing but a few bamboo poles.

"I'm sure the government will give us money for repairs,"
said Li, dressed in a dirty brown T-shirt. "If not we'll do it
the old way -- borrow from friends and relatives."