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Across China: Migrant workers go home to fight floods

Updated: 07 12 , 2016 14:47
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NANCHANG, July 11 -- Migrant worker Zhang Suorong has returned to his rural hometown, but not for a holiday, wedding or funeral. This time, he is home to fight the flood.

Zhang is from Jiangxinzhou, Jiangxi Province, but he lives and works 500 kilometers away in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province. Jiangxinzhou, a township-level settlement on a large sandbank in the Yangtze River, is the registered home of about 50,000 people. However, like Zhang, many from the town have left for jobs in big cities.

Facing a lack of manpower and devastating summer floods, the town has called its migrant workers home to battle the forces of nature. Last week, the local government sent a notice to migrant workers from Jiangxinzhou in other cities via social media.

"Dear townsfellows, we are facing a critical period as floods devastate our home," it said. "We need our 50,000 residents to work together to win this war against the natural disaster."

Days after the notice was issued, more than 3,000 migrant workers returned home, said Zhu Wenbin, a local Party official.

"I just had to come back," Zhang said. "It is our home. If we do not return to protect it, who will?"

"My house stands right beside the Yangtze and is in danger of being submerged," he said. "I am worried about my family."


Since the high water season began in early June, floods, hail and landslides have killed 164 people in China, mainly along the Yangtze River and its tributaries, and left 26 missing, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said Friday morning.

Floods have swept away three dams and an embankment in Jiangxi. Four people have been killed and another remains missing. More than 300,000 hectares of crops have been damaged and 4,252 houses have been destroyed, leading to a direct economic loss of 6.2 billion yuan (928 million U.S. dollars), according to government figures.According to the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, water levels in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze and major freshwater lakes such as Poyang and Dongting are all rising, exceeding warning lines in many spots.

Zhang's hometown of Xinzhouchang, administered under Jiangxinzhou, is in desperate need of hands to reinforce dams, patrol embankments and fix possible leaks along the barriers.

According to official statistics, of Xinzhouchang's 6,000-plus registered residents, more than 5,000 are migrant workers in big cities. Most of those who remain in Xinzhouchang are "left-behind" seniors, women and children.

"The situation is similar in many other localities in Jiangxi, which is one of the worst-hit areas by this year's floods," said Xu Yaochun, Party head of Jiujiang County, which administers Jiangxinzhou.

According to the Jiangxi branch of the National Bureau of Statistics, Jiangxi's migrant workers topped 10 million in 2013, a year-on-year increase of 2 percent.


For Zhang, even making the journey home was difficult. Floods have halted direct rail services from Yangzhou to his hometown, so he had to transfer in neighboring Anhui Province. He spent a night in a relative's house in Anhui's capital, Hefei, and caught the first bus home the next day.

Work began almost the moment he arrived. Zhang has moved to temporary quarters at a middle school near an embankment, where he stays with others in the classrooms. They work in groups of three to patrol the embankment several hours per day.

"I work in shifts, sometimes from midnight until the afternoon of the next day. It's quite intense," Zhang said. "If any dangerous situation arises, we go there to place sandbags."

In addition to heavy rain over the past month, temperatures in Jiangxinzhou have reached almost 40 degrees Celsius in the past two days. Zhang and the other workers have endured the hot weather to cut wild grass on the embankment. The arms of many are red and peeling.

"There are mosquitoes, bugs and snakes," Zhang said. "But we have to face the danger -- we are protecting our families."

More challenges are on the way. Typhoon Nepartak, which has left two people dead and 17 missing after it made landfall in Fujian Province, will continue to bring wind and rain to Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces.

"It will be a tough battle," Zhang said. "But I believe we will win the war."

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