Following four days of torrential rains, we were stuck  in Wolong. The river was so high that some bridges were washed out.

A footbridge washed out by the river

Around 5 am on Monday morning, villagers who live on the far side of the river came over into town for fear that they’d be stranded if their bridge washed out as well. All day, the main road was filled with people assessing the water conditions from different vantage points and talking about the flooding and landslides. There was anxiety in everyone’s faces.

Water slamming up against an old concrete structure that was part of a pre-earthquake hydroelectric project.

The water of the Pitiao River is normally a beautiful light blue-green color, but after the rains, it was the color of chocolate milk. Here’s a link to some video that I shot of the raging river.

The day before, a 24-wheel truck (the Chinese equivalent to our tractor-trailers – yes, they’re that much bigger) was pushed off the road and into the river by a landslide. Ever since the ’08 earthquake, the slopes of these mountains have been resettling. With each heavy rain, unstable rock and soil comes sliding down the steep hillsides.

Landslide along road after clean-up

The students were unhappy because I asked them to be safe and not wander off the main roads.  We spent several days playing Mahjong and watching  movies during the brief periods when electricity was on. My cell phone didn’t work for four days and so I couldn’t post to the blog. But these were all minor inconveniences compared to what the local villagers were facing. Many farms had flooded and  the people living up on the mountain faced constant fear of landslides washing out their crops, or worse, their homes.

Flooded Crops

Access to the area, already severely compromised due to the the ’08 earthquak, has been drastically reduced. Our regular route to and from Dujiangyan, a suburb of Chengdu, is usually about 50 km (3 hours driving), along a highway currently being rebuilt. Rains have destroyed the highway and it will be weeks (or maybe longer) before it is re-opened. When returning to Chengdu, we had to take another route, 475 km (13 hours driving) up and over the front range of the Himalayas. We learned today that the section of road we were on washed out and was destroyed yesterday, so we got out just in time. Our colleagues returning to Wolong later this week will have to take the 600 km route back into the Reserve.

And sad news from the Reserve today – a wild Giant Panda was drowned in the rains. Between the earthquake and deforestation, the slopes of the Wolong Reserve, vital habitat for the Giant Panda, remain vulnerable to wash-out, a reminder of the importance of our work to help restore the forests of Wolong.

We have arrived safely in Chengdu and fly to Beijing tomorrow (Friday). I will catch up on posts that were written while the power was out and post about our work in Wolong soon.


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