Mood still heavy among residents near killer landfill

(Left) Trucks loaded with soil leaving the site of the landslide. Nearby resident Chen Yulin (above) says the incident is "a man-made tragedy that could have been prevented".
(Above) Trucks loaded with soil leaving the site of the landslide. Nearby resident Chen Yulin says the incident is "a man-made tragedy that could have been prevented".ST PHOTOS: ESTHER TEO
(Left) Trucks loaded with soil leaving the site of the landslide. Nearby resident Chen Yulin (above) says the incident is "a man-made tragedy that could have been prevented".
Trucks loaded with soil leaving the site of the landslide. Nearby resident Chen Yulin (above) says the incident is "a man-made tragedy that could have been prevented".ST PHOTOS: ESTHER TEO

Until nearly two weeks ago, hundreds of trucks entered Hong'ao landfill daily to dump their load of soil and waste. A deadly landslide changed all that. These days, they leave loaded with earth and debris instead.

The landfill in Shenzhen is where the landslide on Dec 20 left at least seven people dead and more than 70 others missing.

Madam Li Jianyang, 42, knows of two families of eight people still unaccounted for. Like her, they had moved to the southern city in Guangdong from central Henan province about five years ago.

"I don't think we will ever see them again, not even their bodies. It's very sad and my heart is very heavy," she told The Straits Times.

The landfill site had long been a source of frustration for residents in the area. They were annoyed not only by the constant stream of heavy vehicles that posed a danger, but also by the dust, which coated every surface in their homes. And when it rained, the streets turned into muddy rivers.

ENSURING BASIC SAFETY

What we want most is for our basic safety to be protected by the government. It can't only be the rich and powerful who get their way, leaving the common folk to suffer.

MR CHEN YULIN, a retiree

"It was like living in a desert; there was dirt, sand and soil everywhere," said Madam Li. "It was no use complaining because there's too much money at stake. The landfill collects dumping fees but, then, also sells the soil it collects."

The situation became worse in the past year, said residents. Retiree Chen Yulin, 72, told The Straits Times that on some days, hundreds of trucks headed to the landfill, dumping everything from construction debris to soil to even rubbish. "They are all heading in the opposite direction now. It's sad that it had to take a tragedy for people to realise their mistake," he said.

Almost two weeks after the disaster, the mood in the nearby village remains heavy. Every day, scores of villagers curious about the pace of clean-up efforts climb to the top of a small hill where dozens of excavators can be seen clearing the site.

Mr Chen said that while his daily morning routine used to include going to a nearby park to sing, he no longer has the heart to do so. "How can we continue with our normal lives when others are in mourning?" he said. "It is also worse because this is a man-made tragedy that could have been prevented."

Mr Chen has meticulously recorded every detail of the incident in a small notebook, including the name and age of lone survivor Tian Zeming and how large the incident area is. These figures released by officials, however, keep changing, he pointed out, reflecting the initial confusion among the authorities.

But one thing remains clear: Those responsible must be brought to justice, residents said.

"If there are corrupt practices involved, these people must be punished. What we want most is for our basic safety to be protected by the government. It can't only be the rich and powerful who get their way, leaving the common folk to suffer," Mr Chen said.

Esther Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'Mood still heavy among residents near killer landfill'. Print Edition | Subscribe