Oct. 24, 2017


Decade River Project 2010 (12) From Yingxiu to the mountains of Wenchuan

From Yingxiu to the mountains of Wenchuan
Written and pictured by Wang Yongchen
 

On 4 December 2010, the car we rented broke down and we spent the night in Dujiangyan. Friends from Beijing had helped us rent a car in Chengdu, only it was too small and couldn't fit our luggage, and in Dujiangyan we looked for bread on the street, talked it down to a good price and we went together to the Min River, up the Dadu River to Kangding.

 

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The Min River at Yingxiu

 

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The geologist's concerns
 

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Zipingpu Reservoir

Coming out from Dujiangyan, we first arrived at Yingxiu. On the banks of the Min River, geologist Yang Yongzhan told us about a major geological disaster that struck Yingxiu this August.

On 14th August, the People's Daily website issued the following statement regarding the Yingxiu mudslide: “starting from 8 o'clock on the morning of 12th August, several districts in Sichuan experienced heavy rainfall: Deyang, Mianyang, Chengdu, Yibin, Leshan, Panzihua, Aba, Guangyuan, affecting 498,000 people across 8 municipalities, 20 counties and 127 villages. 11 people have died, 60 are missing, 20,00 people have been evacuated and there have been direct economic losses of over 1 billion RMB.

“On 14th August, after one night's heavy rainfall, Yingxiu, Xuankou Township, Yinxing Village, Sanjiang Village and others, all suffered mudslides, whilst rockfall from the mountains caused the Min River to change its course, thus causing flooding in Yingxiu and Daqiao. Of these, Fengxiangshu village suffered a mudslide of 700,000 cubic meters of earth, burying highway 213 and rerouting the Min River, thus flooding the new district of Yingxiu and obstructing emergency services.”
The people of Yingxiu shared their dreams with us: never to suffer the same kind of tragedy again.

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As we looked at a burnt-out house on the banks of the Min River at Yingxiu, several people limped toward us. “We're from Yinxing,” they said, “we began walking at 5 or 6 in the morning the day before yesterday, and have crossed over four mountains. We haven't drunk water or eaten anything for one day and one day, and we're covered in bruises.” One villager, Zhou Jiliang, said that after the mudslides had occurred, they took refuge in Yinxing Primary School alongside 1,000 others. Now, there is no drinking water or food to eat, and a representative from the People's Armed Police has said that they woud send a search and rescue team to the disaster area.

 

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Tang Xiaoping prepares a meal for us

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Xiaoping and her son Xiaohong

Tang Xiaoping was not one of the people we planned on keeping in touch with for the River Decade Project, but after we found out about her in the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake, we decided we would come see her family each year as well. Xiaoping's son Xiaohong was on the sports field of Yingxiu primary school for PE class when the earthquake took place, and all of his classmates were crushed under the collapsed school building. Xiaohong saw his own classmates crushed, and heard them calling out for help. When we came to visit their home, Xiaohong was still barely speaking.
This year, after Xiaohong had finished his homework, he give it to his mother to look over. This was our fourth visit to Xiaohong's home, but it was the first time we saw him smile.

The biggest problem at home now is that the aluminium factory beside the village had resumed manufacturing since it stopped in the earthquake's aftermath. After the earthquake, villagers' fruit trees would not grow fruit; then as soon as plants bloomed in spring, dust from the factory kills the fruit. Now, it's not only fruit trees that have become barren; even vegetables are  not growing and pigs are not behaving normally. Xiaoping's husband also noticed that bees are effected as well, since they do not have flowers to pollinate.

However, Xiaoping's optimism struck a chord with all of us working on the River Decade Project. Her father saw children going to school so far and helped them to buy a bread van, and now Xiaoping's husband is putting this vehicle to business use as well.

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New village, with no courtyards

The newly-constructed village has no courtyards or gardens, although the rows of houses are surprisingly pretty. We asked Xiaoping whether this meant that villagers could no longer use their gardens to grow vegetables or tend to animals; she said that even if there were gardens they couldn't use them, since the pollution from the aluminium factory is so serious.

Last year, we asked Xiaoping why she doesn't go to the factory to complain. She said that there were so many people in the village who worked there, and if they complain they will lose an opportunity to make more money, and finding a new job is so difficult now.

At more than 30 years old, Xiaoping now works as a porter to make the money necessary to raise her family. When we asked her if this was all right, she smiled and said that whether or not it was, it must be done.
 

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Constructing the new village
 

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Where Xiaoping and the other villagers now live 
 

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What actually concerns us most is where Xiaoping and the other villagers are living now, a place which has already suffered several mudslides but were they nevertheless decided to build the new village.

 

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Since 12 August, parts of Sichuan province experienced continuous heavy rainfall, and torrential rains qffected the local area, leading to several flash floods and mudslides. Amongst these, the Ƌ-12' Wenchuan earthquake struck Minzhu City, Qingping, and Aba. The map above is the latest high-definition map of these thee places after the disaster. from the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping,

 

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Earthquake disaster zone
 

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Power station being recovered

On 20 August, Sichuan News Network reported that the Sichuan government held a press conference to announce that flooding and mudslides has occurred in Chengdu, during which a journalist asked, what had caused this disaster?

The response was that the major cause behind mudslides was particular geological conditions. The topography of the area, which includes tall mountains and steep slopes with a longitudinal gradient of 540%, is especially conducive to mudslides. At the same time, the geological strata of the disaster area has alternating soft and hard rock mass. The investigation revealed that the geological strata consisted of Triassic, Permian, Devonian, Cambrian, Sinian, shale, mudstone, sandstone, limestone, alternating layers of soft and hard along the slopes.

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Online photograph

In addition, geological composition is also a major cause of mudslides. Experts point out that the geological make up of the area has a very strong effect, causing rock strata to overturn and flip over. How we develop, damage and manipulate geological structure is a major factor in causing these disasters.

Specialists say that the 5.12 Wenchuan earthquake had a powerful precipitating effect on the mudslide—because it is located within the disaster zone of the 5.12 Wenchuan earthquake, rock forms were split and loosened by the tremors, inducing large amounts of land slipping and rock formations falling apart, causing large amounts of debris to pile up. This was one of the major causes of the mudslide.

The journalists asked, “the 8.13 mudslide caused serious damage in the earth disaster zone, and now there is so much debate over whether or not the site is unsuitable—can we rely on the future safety of the site?”

The authorities responded that the 5.12 Wenchuan earthquake occurred, arrangements were made in the disaster zone, the local government entrusting these duties to the capabilities of specialist teams to carry out a geological disaster danger evaluation, and in their conclusion to suggest appropriate location for the people affected by a disaster to then settle down, thereby ensuring that the reconstruction site chosen after the disaster passes scientific analysis.

Severe weather was a direct cause of the 8.13 mudslide. This year's weather has been unusual, resulting in sudden heavy rainfall in the disaster area. In Qingping township, for example, there was 230mm of rainfall within 10 hours, several times the historical average and  precipitating the 8.13 mudslide.

The authorities responded that “the earthquake and heavy rainfall produced the special conditions that precipitated the mudslide; and we should concede that it is extremely hard to predict how and when natural disasters will occur”.


 

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Power station being restored

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Power station

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Shiziping power station

The journalist then asked, “the Yingxiu mudslide occurred when the barrier dam caused water levels to rise continuously,  couldn't this threaten the reservoir?”

Authorities responded that the latest situation is that through the collective effort of government and various departments, the water level of the the lake formed by the Yingxiu mudslide has been steadily declining, and the threat to downstream regions is being diminished. According to emergency measures, by midday 20 August two-thirds of the river course will be drained, therefore reducing the flood pressure. Presently, the risk of flooding along the Min River is quite small – well within what the flood control at Zipingpu Reservoir can handle – therefore secondary disasters in the wake of the Yingxiu mudslide couldn't possibly pose a threat to the Zipingpu power station.
With such a clear explanation, surely the ordinary people around here can set their minds at ease. Only time will tell. Nevertheless, many geologists are not so optimistic. Yang Yong has said all along that after an earthquake, these places will continue to suffer secondary disasters well into the future, and this we cannot ignore. 


 

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River cut off by dam
 

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Reinforced slope cracking open

Still suffering continuous landslides, and with their hydro-power station still undergoing restoration, what can these journalists do? They can publicise information, let more members of the public and important decision-makers privy to the concerns of experts, and encourage more participation from the public and relevant stakeholders. This is what the River Decade Project should do, and what we aim to accomplish.

 

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Be careful!

 

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On a broken bridge

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We realise there is someone beneath the bridge

The scene that affected us most in this year's River Decade Project occurred beneath a broken bridge. At the beginning, we were al taking pictures of this bridge—last year were here doing the same, as it was something we decided to keep track of after the earthquake. However, we hadn't considered that we would stay so long this year. After taking many photographs, several of us  started to cry and consider how they could help.

These are the pictures I captured that day, standing in the bitter cold with tears in my eyes.

 

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Walking

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Sawing off steel bars from the bridge
 

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Sawing
 
 

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Our humble offering

 

We hadn't thought that an old lady would be braving the elements today just to scape together a living, wading through freezing water to salvage and sell scrap steel from the damaged bridge.

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After goodbyes, she gets back to work

And after saying goodbye to old lady we had just met, our car was very quiet, giving us time to think. After a major disaster, how can the eldery start a new life? Today we can donate money to help them, but what about tomorrow?

Tomorrow we will be going to look at the convergence point of the Dadu, Duke and Suomo rivers

Translator: Ryan Kilpatrick

 




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