Dams and Landslides

Human error cited in Fujian floods

Kelly Haggart and Mu Lan
June 12, 2006

As torrential rain that has caused scores of deaths continues to lash southeast China, flood refugees in Fujian province say their own lives were put at risk by dam operators who opened the floodgates of 10 reservoirs without warning.

Collapsed homes in Fujian province

As torrential rain that has caused scores of deaths continues to lash southeast China, flood refugees in Fujian province say their own lives were endangered by dam operators who opened the floodgates of 10 reservoirs without warning. More than 1,000 people were left homeless last week after severe floods hit Fujian’s Pingnan county and the coastal city of Ningde, destroying more than 100 houses, along with a hospital, a shopping centre and a bank. Local farmers say it was a manmade disaster that should never have happened. With rain pounding the area since late May, reservoir water levels in the Hetongxi River valley rose to ominous levels. At first, dam operators were keen to
impound the water to generate electricity, but the rain-swollen reservoirs soon became so full that they posed a danger. At a critical moment on June 6, the floodgates of 10 reservoirs were opened almost simultaneously, discharging torrents of water into the Hetongxi valley.

No advance warning was issued to the unsuspecting people living below the dams. With their homes gone and no emergency relief in sight, the flood refugees set up makeshift tents to shelter under out on the streets. On the third day of their ordeal [June 8], they said local officials had still not shown up, and dam operators had also done nothing to help. A banner strung up near one of the tent camps reads: “A manmade disaster put our lives at risk. We invite the county governor for a dialogue!” One of the victims said local government officials and dam operators should draw a lesson from the disaster, and
that many lives could have been lost if any of the dams had collapsed as a result of their actions. While the Chinese press has reported on the severe weather that has triggered floods and landslides across southeast China, it has been silent on the manmade disaster in Fujian.

A local environmental group, Fujian Pingnan Green Home, got the word out by sending an email to activists in Beijing, appealing for help. The local group wants high-level leaders to order an environmental impact assessment in the area damaged by the flooding, and to help the affected people rebuild their lives.

Sign near a tent camp inviting the county governor to a dialogue
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