China: Kindness, power of unity shine amid devastating floods

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Rescue and restoration efforts continue in Central China’s Henan as typhoon In-Fa brought new spells of rainfall to parts of the province which was already lashed by record-breaking rainstorms recently.As of Thursday, torrential rains since July 16 have left 99 people dead, forcing emergency relocation of over 1.47 million people and affecting over 13 million residents in 150 county-level areas in Henan. Over 100,000 military personnel, armed police and militia members as well as firefighters from 12 other provinces were dispatched to the front line for flood control and disaster relief.

At the same time, people from various walks of life both within and outside Henan have voluntarily lent a helping hand, showing the power of unity in the face of disaster.

Guardians of stranded passenger train
After being stranded in the middle of no where for over three hours, Train K31 with more than 900 passengers on board finally got in touch with the outside world at 5:00 a.m. Having departed East China’s Fuzhou City at 3:10 pm on July 19. K31 was scheduled to arrive at Luoyang, Henan, the next afternoon, but a rainstorm-triggered flood submerged the tracks ahead and forced the train to stop in a small valley around 50 km from Henan’s capital city of Zhengzhou where telecom communications were largely dysfunctional.

The wait seemed endless, and constant downpours had loosened mountain surfaces, exposing the train to potential mudslides. Increasing sounds of restlessness emerged from the carriages, but, a life-saving phone call connected the desperate train crew to the Mugou station, the closest train station to K31’s location and one of the smallest in China with only 10 staff members. After learning about the situation, Li Hui, head of the Mugou station immediately convened seven workers he could find at that moment and set up a task force to save the stranded passengers.

Food was the immediate requirement, but all roads to the nearby Mugou village were either flooded or blocked by fallen trees. Niu Baocai, 57, stumbled across muddy slopes with the aid of a tree branch and an electric torch and knocked on the door of the village chief’s house.

The chief soon ordered a bulldozer to clear the blocked road. In the following 10 hours, the team with an average age of 51.6 trudged back and forth between the train and the village’s only supply cooperative. Using trolleys and bare hands, they delivered over 100 cases of drinking water, 100 cases of instant noodles, eggs, carrots and other food items to help the hungry passengers.

One problem was solved, yet the risk of mudslides was increasing. The team members then started a search for mobile signals near the Mugou station to request support. An hour later, on the top of a slope close to a signal tower, they finally contacted the train commanding centre in Luoyang which then ordered K31 to move to a safer location. After being stuck for nearly 40 hours, all 916 passengers on K31 were safely transferred by buses from nearby cities on the afternoon of July 21. During the persistent aid efforts, each member of the task force only had one pack of instant noodles. “As long as we save one bite, the passengers could get more,” said Li.

Racing for life
“No one knows the waters and currents better than us. If the rescue authorities need us, we will rush to the front line,” Li Zhonglong, a former professional kayaker in Henan and a member of the Luoyang Kayak Association, posted on his Weibo page in the wee hours of July 21 after seeing heart-wrenching images of flood-ravaged Zhengzhou. 

Calls for help poured in and one of them was from the Fuwai Central China Cardiovascular Hospital in Zhengzhou. After collecting over 20 kayaks, Li and his five friends from the association set off from Luoyang overnight.They had planned to transport the kayaks there by car as aid materials, but the water level continued to rise while they were approaching Zhengzhou, forcing them to paddle the kayaks instead. During the one-hour paddling, they saved along the way four people who had taken refuge on the roof of their cars floating in the flood. After arriving at the hospital, Li was told that the most pressing issue was the lack of oxygen for the newborns in incubators and the critical patients. He rushed out to seek help as all other communication means were disrupted.

After rescue forces arrived at the hospital, Li learned that another city Xinxiang located around 90 km from Zhengzhou was facing a flooding emergency. The team decided to shift their focus there, taking more than 120 kayaks and over 1,000 life jackets that had been just collected.

Li realised that the kayaks were unable to steer their way because of the rapidly increasing flow of water. Luckily, a team of motorboats joined the rescue, allowing them to ride on the motorboats and pull the kayaks.

They worked for 12 hours without sleep or food, during which they transferred over 300 people to safety at the cost of three worn-out motorboats. A retired athlete for 11 years, Li said the experience made him feel as if he was in a match again. 

“But this race against time is not for ranking, but for saving lives. It is much more important than games,” he said.

Gifts sent afar
Early on July 27, a van entered Henan carrying 10,000 pieces of baked nang, a kind of crusty flatbread from Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. It took 43-year-old Iminjan Kurban and two of his friends two days and three nights to reach Henan from Xinjiang’s Kashgar Prefecture, driving nearly 4,500 km by taking turns. “We don’t have relief equipment, but at least we can make some food for the flood-affected people,” said Kurban, a Uygur van driver.

On July 24, Kurban called upon 180 Uygur friends, aged 16 to 72, to make 10,000 pieces of baked nang for Henan. They hit the goal in eight hours. “To make the nang last longer on the road, we mixed it with extra milk and eggs,” he added. 

Kurban said he was determined to send them to Henan personally, recalling that a poverty-alleviation official dispatched from Henan had worked a lot to improve their lives in his hometown. Apart from the special food, they also brought along 140 quilts and a donation of over 30,000 yuan (about 4,632 U.S. dollars) in total. 

“With no special skills, I used to earn about 20 yuan a day. A Han friend taught me driving, and now I make over 10,000 yuan a month,” he said.  After arriving in Fugou County in Henan, Kurban was guided to drive into a school in Cuiqiao town which has been turned into a temporary shelter for 1,200 people from 10 villages. The surprise gift from afar aroused excitement among the crowd. It was the first time for many of the villagers there to taste authentic Xinjiang nang.

The gesture of kindness brought smiles to their exhausted faces. They appreciated Kurban’s efforts in making the nang and driving such a long distance under the scorching heat. Kurban and his friends are scheduled to leave Henan on Thursday. They know the trip home would be much more relaxed, with their goodwill having reached those in need.