As temperatures drop, Zhouqu mudslide survivors dread approaching winter
Almost two months after a massive mudslide slammed this isolated, altitudinal county in northwest China, many of its survivors still live in tents. Now, as winter draws near, they wonder how they will withstand the new season's freezing temperatures.
"I have no idea how we will survive this winter. The tent is getting colder, especially at night," survivor Li Qingxiang told a reporter who recently visited her tent.
The mudslide wrecked Li's life, razing both her home and the restaurant she ran.
Temperatures in Zhouqu during winter plunge to 20 degrees Celsius below zero.
Most of the disaster's survivors have been living with their friends or relatives.
Li is among the 470 survivors from 142 households who are living in 1,000 tents in Shachuan Village in western Zhouqu.
Because of the surrounding mountains, the region does not receive much direct sunlight, making life in the village even more frigid.
"We have to wear thick clothes inside the tents now. But there were not enough winter clothes donated. And it is also hard for many of us to find clothes the right size," Li added after pulling on an extra sweater.
Burning coal is the usual way to beat the winter chill for many villagers in Gansu Province. But the rising price of the coal has made it unaffordable for the poor survivors.
Usually, the price of coal in Zhouqu is 950 yuan (142.07 U. S. dollars) per tonne while in winter it can reach 1,200 yuan per tonne.
The monthly subsidy each survivor not living in a tent receives is 200 yuan. The tent dwellers receive no subsidy, as their daily supplies are provided free of charge.
"Many of us have lost everything in the mudslide, and so coal is hardly affordable for us. Burning coal is dangerous anyway," Li said.
Li Wuyu, 55 years old, was the only survivor of the disaster in her nine-member family. When rescuers found her, the lower part of her body was buried under mudslide debris.
Li, whose legs were badly injured, has been living in a tent since she left hospital 15 days ago.
Li's nephew Lu Zhouping and his wife have come all the way from another county to take care of her.
Sobbing, Li Wuyu said, "It is so cold. I cannot sleep at night, and I miss my family members terribly."
Lu Zhouping said, "My aunt is weak and sad, and the cold weather is adding to her grief."
"I bought some coal for 1,600 yuan three days ago," Lu said, "but the smoke from burning the coal in this small tent is suffocating. So we have to sleep with the windows open. But then cold winds blow through the tent," a dispirited Lu added.
But despite the cold and the difficult situation, some villagers have a positive outlook.
"The tent is actually well-equipped with daily necessities. I'm quite satisfied with what I have got so far. As for the cold weather, the government certainly will take measures to help us," said Bao Jiming, a 51-year-old Tibetan.
Qiu Zhengping, a local civil affairs bureau official, said the government plans to buy 600 moisture proof cushions, 200 electric heaters, and 500 electric blankets for the tent dwellers.
More than 15,000 sets of winter clothes will also be given to the survivors. Each set comprises of a jacket, cotton clothing, a pair of sport shoes and underwear.
"Zhouqu is running short of coal, and so the government is calling for donations of coal. But the government does not recommend using coal stoves inside the tents because it is a fire hazard," Qiu said.
"As the weather is getting colder by the day, we are rushing to help the needy. We are coming up with more measures to help the survivors," he added.
According to a local government official in Gansu, the reconstruction of Zhouqu will begin in the near future.
The mudslide that slammed Zhouqu on Aug.8 left 1,456 dead, 309 missing and more than 15,000 homeless.
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