Villagers flee to special refuges to escape floods

While many Chinese residents relocate to townships to escape floods, some in east China's Anhui Province are sheltering away in special villages.

While many Chinese residents relocate to townships to escape floods, some in east China’s Anhui Province are sheltering away in special villages.

China has entered its rainy season. Since June, continuous downpours have lashed large parts of southern China, and the waters of many rivers in the affected regions have exceeded warning levels.

On July 23, authorities closed the spillways at Wangjiaba, a major flood diversion channel on the Huaihe River, almost 77 hours after they were opened in a move to reserve capacity in flood zones.

Since the spillways were opened, 1,360 cubic meters of water roared through the diversion area per second in the midst of pouring rain, inundating local farmlands in the county of Funan.

A total of 375 million cubic meters of water has been stored in the Mengwa buffer zone in the county, covering an area of more than 180 square km and home to about 155,000 residents.

Amid the sea of floodwater stand highland villages known as “zhuangtai” by locals. The villages have long served as shelters for people living in the flood diversion area.

Created in 1953 alongside the Wangjiaba hydrological station, the zhuangtais contain four townships, where residents live in homes built dozens of meters above sea level.

The zhuangtais are either natural low hills or artificially built structure.

Zheng Jichao lives on one of the zhuangtais besieged by floods from the Huaihe River.

“I have experienced a dozen floods since I was a little kid. I am used to the situation now,” said Zheng, 72, who has stored enough food at home to last until the flood recedes.

“The only concern is that the farmland has been submerged.” Over the years, nearly 800 million yuan (US$14 million) has been spent to upgrade the infrastructure of these zhuangtais.

“We were afraid of floods before. There wasn’t enough food and we didn’t have access to drinking water,” Zheng’s wife recalled.

More than 100 residents are living on the same zhuangtai with Zheng and his wife, most of whom are children and seniors.

“Supplies are sent to them by boat every day based on the villagers’ needs. When the water stabilizes, we will also arrange boats to pick them up,” said Li Tongshi, a local official appointed to the zhuangtais to help the villagers.

In another zhuangtai, Guo Guomin was cutting the hair of her fellow stranded villagers.

“Yesterday I gave four people haircuts. It was all for free,” said Guo, who had no previous experience cutting hair.

The water level at Wangjiaba rose to 29.66 meters by 6:36am on July 20, exceeding the recommended level of 29.3 meters, according to the Huaihe River Commission of the Ministry of Water Resources.

Spillways of Wangjiaba were opened to divert the floodwater to the adjacent Mengwa buffer.

The move is expected to bring relief to the residents in central China’s Henan Province, where the upper reaches of the Huaihe River run, and alleviate pressure downstream.

The 1,000-km-long Huaihe is one of China’s major waterways, running through the east between the Yangtze and Yellow rivers.

The main course of the Huaihe has faced flood risks recently due to heavy rains.

The spillways of Wangjiaba have opened to divert floodwater 16 times since it began operating in 1953. The last time was in 2007.

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