Tropical storm Bilis has claimed 198 lives in Guangdong, Hunan, Fujian, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces, and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Heavy rains continue to ravage these southern and eastern areas. The death toll is very likely to rise, while further damage may cause even more problems for local residents.
Such a natural disaster has become a test of the authorities' ability to limit the suffering of local residents.
A working group jointly established by central government departments has already rushed to the affected provinces to guide relief efforts. In addition, the Office of the State Flood Control and Relief Headquarters has allocated 65 million yuan (US$8.2 million) in relief funds. At the same time, relief materials including quilts, tents and clothes have been transported to the worst-hit areas.
The emergency response mechanism at the top level is working well.
Trains were running again on a section of the Beijing-Guangzhou railway in central China's Hunan Province just two days after it was flooded, and a nearby stretch of highway is also due to reopen today. The armed forces stationed in these regions rushed to rescue those trapped by the flood waters and help people evacuate their flooded homes.
This tells us that local governments are able to cope when faced with such natural disasters.
The rainfall brought by Bilis is the heaviest in several decades for some areas in the affected provinces. Lechang, a city of 550,000 in Guangdong Province, has been cut off from the outside world by four-meter-deep floods. Meanwhile, more than 400 millimeters of rain fell in just 24 hours on the county of Anxi in neighboring Fujian Province, with 800 millimeters falling over 72 hours, a record figure in the locality.
We have reason to believe that some local residents must have suffered extremely heavy losses and some may have been reduced to penury. The situation may be even more miserable for those families who have lost their loved ones.
Although the relief efforts by the central government will help them get through the most difficult times after the disaster, they face the arduous task of rebuilding their homes and lives.
Local governments must play a major role in dealing with the aftermath. They need to organize the reasonable distribution of relief materials, funds and donations. They also need to organize local reconstruction efforts.
(China Daily July 19, 2006)