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Beijing flood victims fume at official response

By Steven Jiang, CNN
July 26, 2012 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Residents of Beijing's Fangshan district are angry at authorities' response
  • Water marks some two meters high are visible on the exterior walls of a dozen houses
  • Some villagers blame local officials for decision to cover a former waterway with concrete
  • Authorities insist on need to prioritize effort; district has 800,000 affected residents

Beijing (CNN) -- Four days after the biggest rainstorm in six decades hit the Chinese capital, Zhang Huishen remains furious over what she perceives as government indifference to her family's plight.

"Our family of five lives off one income," said the 46-year-old farmer Wednesday. "Nobody cares about us because there's no official in this household."

Zhang lives along what once was a paved road in the small village of Louzishui in Beijing's southwestern Fangshan district, the area hit hardest by the storm last weekend.

A flashflood has reduced the road to a muddy path littered with furniture, clothes and even a tin shed -- all objects washed away by powerful waters.

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Water marks some two meters high stay visible on the exterior walls of a dozen houses by the road, while mud piles stand outside doorways with flies circling around garbage nearby.

Zhang says she largely relies on her husband's monthly wage of $300 to take care of her family that includes the couple, their two children and her sick father-in-law.

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"Everything was floating in water -- refrigerator, television, everything," she said while showing a CNN crew her just-dried kitchen and living room. "I borrowed money to renovate the house and lost more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000)."

Anger over Beijing's flooding response

Zhang and her neighbors alike remember a fearful night spent in dark attics or higher ground after carrying the elderly and children out of fast-rising water -- all the while unable to reach anyone at the city's flood control hotline.

A woman cleans mud from her home in the Fangshan district of Beijing, China, July 25, 2012. Fangshan suffered some of the worst damage after the heaviest rain in 60 years. A woman cleans mud from her home in the Fangshan district of Beijing, China, July 25, 2012. Fangshan suffered some of the worst damage after the heaviest rain in 60 years.
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One neighbor, Gao Liying, added that she feels even more shaken by the village officials' response when she told them the flood has ruined almost all her worldly possessions.

"They actually said: 'If your house didn't collapse and nobody died, then you're not a victim,'" she said, raising her voice. "I asked: are you still human?"

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Villagers like Zhang and Gao blame local officials for their decision to cover a former waterway with concrete -- thus turning it to a road and diminishing drainage capacity -- and their failure to warn residents before the storm.

"It was more than a natural disaster," Gao said. "The officials are responsible too."

Fangshan authorities have acknowledged shortcomings in the local drainage system, telling reporters they have learned their lessons and will address people's concerns. They also insist the need to prioritize their effort in a district where the storm has affected 800,000 residents, cost at least $1 billion in economic losses, and the death toll is expected to rise significantly.

For some villagers of Louzishui, however, such words hardly resonate. As loudspeakers mounted throughout the village began to broadcast propaganda messages touting rapid government aid to victims, Liu Wenzhi scoffed.

"Why bother howling now? Where were they when we needed help?" the 60-year-old resident asked. "This is a place led by the Communist Party. Where is our equality?"

Not long after the loudspeakers turned quiet, local officials showed up in two white vans to deliver bottled water, instant noodles and blankets to residents affected by the flood.

A shouting match soon broke out between a village Party official and a resident living by the water-ripped road whose home was totally flooded.

"I have to take the overall situation into consideration -- there are many others who are much worse off than you," the official shouted at a fuming Zhang Chunrong.

"I don't want your damn stuff," Zhang yelled back.

"My husband is a Party member so I was asked to keep quiet," she later explained, wiping tears off. "But I can't bear it anymore -- how dare he come to my home to insult me by saying my loss is nothing?"

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