It was raining again on Wednesday. Shen Lanxiang stood in front of her wrecked house in Gantang Village of Chenzhou, in central China's Hunan Province, and could not help sobbing.
"Now it is impossible to find my wooden box," said Shen, 62. The box, in which she kept her treasured belongings, became wreckage buried with the rice and the clothes after Typhoon Bilis came ashore on July 15 and brought the flood that roared through her house.
The village couldn't even take the time to recover from Bilis when Typhoon Kaemi, China's fifth of this year, assailed east China's Fujian Province on Tuesday and stomped farther inland, turning northwest and bringing Chenzhou the one thing its people did not want to see more rain.
The local government evacuated villagers to safety, so in one way, lives were saved. But when they were allowed to return to their homes, what, really, did they have?
"All belongings were lost," said Shen, who was born in Xinxing in south China's Guangdong Province, another of Bilis' victims. "We will not be able to do any farming in the second half of the year because of the continuing rain. I have never seen such a big flood in my life."
It wasn't just the lost treasures that caused Shen to be immersed in tears; she had also received relief goods from the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA), a non-governmental organization based in Beijing.
On Wednesday the CFPA launched a new relief project for flood-stricken areas across the country. Each villager whose house was destroyed received a bag of rice and clothes.
"Prior to the CFPA's project, I had also been given a bottle of food oil and a bag of rice from the local charity organization," she said.
Shen and her 68-year-old husband have moved into their daughter's home.
"People are desperately in need of food and shelter," said Wang Xingzui, a CFPA official.
CFPA has donated 5 million yuan (US$625,000) worth of goods to Hunan since the floods began. Shandong-based Xinlang-Sinoer Co Ltd also donated clothes worth about 2.5 million yuan (US$312,500) to the province on Wednesday.
Gantang, a mountainous village of 1,590 people, was devastated by the typhoons and the floods they caused. Local officials said 1,083 houses were destroyed, resulting in direct losses estimated at nearly 5 million yuan (US$625,000), and up to 130 tons of food supplies and poultry in the village were lost.
The rice paddies, their livelihood, also took a beating: Of the 42 hectares of fields, 38.3 hectares (92 percent) were destroyed, a loss estimated at 900,000 yuan (US$112,500).
In Chenzhou, the area in Hunan worst hit by the floods from Bilis, more than 3 million people - about 70 percent of the population - were affected. Civil Affairs Department officials there estimated more than 105,000 homes and 137,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed. No estimates were available yet on how much more damage Kaemi may cause.
"They have become homeless, and without food and fields to farm, it's very hard for them to recover from the disaster on their own," Wang said.
Since it was established in 1989, the CFPA said it has distributed relief worth 1.5 billion yuan (US$187.5 million) through more than 200 relief projects, benefiting more than 3 million people.
It started a separate urgency relief project in 2002, which has raised more than 100 million yuan (US$12.5 million).
Besides the CFPA's assistance, Chenzhou had also received about 8.9 million yuan (US$1.1 million) donations on Wednesday through other charity organizations, said Li Qingxi, director of the Chenzhou city government's poverty relief agency. About 82 tons of rice and other daily necessities are also arriving, he said.
What's more, the Asian Development Bank has granted a US$200 million loan to the province to help with flood relief, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Thursday.
According to Li Zhuqi, an official with the Chenzhou city government, the city needs at least 500 million yuan (US$62.5 million) to help people recover.
"Relief work is hard, and we are calling for more help from other cities and enterprises," Li Zhuqi said.
As the city is situated in the mountainous areas, it lags behind coastal areas in terms of economic strength. Moreover, more than 1,600 businesses have shut down, and a great number of factories have been destroyed because of the storms.
Li Zhuqi said: "Enterprises and factories here would like to help, but right now they can't do more than helping themselves recover from the disaster."
The disasters are also an unfortunate lesson for local governments in dealing with several aspects of serving their people at the same time.
"We have to arrange people to move to safe places as rains have continued these days, but at the same time, we are working on how to help them recover," Li Zhuqi said.
The Chenzhou government is planning to allocate about 57.5 million yuan (US$7.2 million) to help people who lost their homes to build new ones. And in the months ahead, it will raise and appropriate 44.5 million yuan (US$5.6 million) to provide food for residents in the flood-hit areas.
When Bilis struck Gantang, hundreds of people were evacuated to a temporary shelter set up in a primary school, according to Peng Shenggan, head of the village.
"But of course, it is not a long-term solution for them to recover from the disaster," Peng said.
Ultimately, he added, the government can help the victims only so far.
"Villagers will have to help each other after the flood for better recovery," Peng said. "There have been some people who live in other families' houses."
When a 92-year-old villager and his wife were forced to live in a shelter that is only 5 square metres since their houses and those of their relatives were all destroyed, neighbors came to the rescue by helping the husband cook meals.
But as difficult as it is to get people victimized by these two typhoons food and shelter, "the most difficult relief work is to help villagers resume farming," Peng said.
"They used to be very busy in July; that's when they prepare to harvest crops and get ready for the second farming season of the year," he said. "But now they have nothing; they have no fields to farm."
The local government has called for farmers to raise more poultry after the flood. The hope is that, a year from now, the victims who have no livelihood will have found a way to put roofs over their heads and at least have something on the tables.
That's also what Shen Lanxiang hopes. "We will start raising a chicken or a calf, then have more," she said, "and finally we will have our own farmland to get back to the beginning."
(China Daily July 29, 2006)