Earlier this month, a Beijing Times reporter visited Zhugqu (zhouqu 舟曲) County, Gansu Province, where 1,700 people died in flooding and mudslides that hit the area on 8 August 2010. Shortly before the disaster, the county completed work on four dams meant to prevent mudslides, all of which were destroyed by the flooding. Nearly four years on, county government and environmental authorities deflected questions about responsibility, but the locals and construction company employees the reporter spoke to described the dams as ‘tofu dregs’ doufuzha 豆腐渣 engineering.
Locals described attempts to have material from the dam tested, only to be informed that of orders from above that no tests were to be performed. An unnamed senior executive with Gannan Hengda Construction, the company behind the four dams, told the newspaper how construction workers took shortcuts by blasting the surrounding hillsides for earth to mix into the cement rather than sourcing sand from the river, and that they ignored orders to return to standard procedures.
The county court alluded to construction problems in 2011, when it gave Chen Shengchang 陈生昌, the Hengda manager in charge of the projects, with a suspended sentence of two years for negligence in failing to foresee that substandard quality would lead to major accidents and economic loss. However, the paper’s source within Hengda told the newspaper that Chen was made a scapegoat, since various government agencies had signed off on the dams. The initial budget for the four dams approved by the provincial environmental bureau was 9 million yuan, but the company’s bid was for 7 million; Chen took out a loan for the remaining 2 million. “But later, a county leader told him the most they could give was 5 million yuan, and then it was only 3 million, and ultimately, he only received 1 million,” the source told the Beijing Times.
The newspaper reported that the dam project was conceived in 1996 and had its design approved by the State Planning Commission in 1998. However, the originally planned reinforced concrete dams were instead built as masonry dams.