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Rain-lashed Sichuan suffers

By Huang Zhiling (China Daily)

08:24, July 19, 2013

A controlled explosion erupts on Thursday to remove hazardous rocks near a barrier lake formed by continuous rainfall in Sanjiao, Sichuan province. More blasts will follow to carve out a flood channel and discharge the floodwater. (Heng Changhui / for China Daily)

Ling Lizhou, a travel agency employee, has been bombarded with phone calls since Wednesday.

"They are not tourists who would pay for our services. Instead, they asked for compensation or postponement of their trips in response to the government's requirement that Mount Emei and the Leshan Grand Buddha be closed for two days," said Ling, who works for Chengdu Universal International Travel Service in Sichuan province.

As rainstorms were forecast to impact many parts of Sichuan from Monday evening to Thursday, the provincial meteorological bureau issued a yellow alert warning on Monday.

In the wake of the warning, the Sichuan provincial government issued an emergency circular on Tuesday afternoon, asking the administrative committee of the Mount Emei and Leshan Grand Buddha Scenic Area to close on Wednesday and Thursday.

"Some 10,000 tourists who had entered the area were asked to leave before 10 am on Wednesday in line with the circular," said Wu Jian, an official in charge of marketing for the area.

"It is the first time Mount Emei has been closed," said Wu, who has worked on Mount Emei since 1984.

Mount Emei and the Leshan Grand Buddha were included on UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1996.

"It is dangerous to take a mountainous plank road to view the Leshan Grand Buddha if there is a rainstorm. The circular was issued in the wake of the landslide in Dujiangyan," said Zhang Xudong, an official who works with Wu.

Last Wednesday, a landslide killed 43 people in Sanxi village in Dujiangyan, and 118 are still missing. Most of the dead and missing are tourists who were escaping the summer heat in the cooler mountain village.

Since the landslide, Mount Qingcheng in Dujiangyan, which is the birthplace of Chinese Taoism, has been closed. The Dujiangyan Irrigation Project — the world's oldest irrigation system still in operation — is open. But all travel agencies have stopped arranging visits to both destinations.

"Each day before the landslide, at least 20 buses with 600 tourists arranged by our agency would visit Dujiangyan and Mount Qingcheng. The landslide is a heavy blow to both travel agencies and Dujiangyan city," Ling said.

Last year, more than 17 million tourists visited Dujiangyan and Mount Qingcheng, with ticket revenue amounting to 271 million yuan ($44 million). More than 6.4 million tourists visited the rural areas of Dujiangyan city including its rural resorts. Trips to the rural areas earned the city more than 1.2 billion yuan.

"As the temperature in Dujiangyan city is several degrees lower than in Chengdu, many from the provincial capital would spend the searing summer time in its rural resorts before the landslide. But I fear fewer people will stay in the resorts for a long time to come," said Gui Xia, a rural resort owner in Zhongxing.

Because of damage to the mountain road that leads to Jiuzhaigou, a scenic spot known for its colored alpine lakes, travel agencies can now only arrange trips by air to the destination, which is also on the World Heritage List.

"Each day, my company would arrange three groups of tourists from Nanchang (in Jiangxi province) to Jiuzhaigou by road. As road trips are canceled, many tourists have given up their plans," said Li Juan, an employee with the Jiangxi Overseas Tourism Corporation.

Four rainstorms have lashed Sichuan since June 18. Direct economic losses from flooding have reached nearly 28 billion yuan.

Although no figures relating to losses in the tourism sector are available, Wu Mian, deputy chief of the provincial tourism administration, acknowledges they are hefty. But he is optimistic about the recovery of the tourism sector.

"No visitor attractions have been damaged. Only roads leading there are ruined," he said.

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