January 1, 2006
The tough old towns along the Yangtze River have been no match for the goliath of the Three Gorges Dam built by the Chinese to tame the flood-prone river. Behind the dam, the water has risen to 135 meters and inundated parts or all of the towns along a reservoir that is longer than Lake Michigan.
In 2002, in the early stages of the evacuation of Old Fengdu, the red symbol tsai marked the buildings that would be torn down in advance of the flooding. The city’s once vibrant downtown was turned to rubble, as if by a tremendous explosion. I arrived on New Year’s Day to look for stragglers, the elderly and infirm, who refused to move out because they couldn’t afford the higher rents in New Fengdu. The old city was in its final stages; only a few pockets of activity remained amid the ruins. Men with sledgehammers were steadily demolishing the shell of a high-rise. Along the remaining road, there were huge bales of wire, like tumbleweed, and long copper rods bundled together. These had been salvaged from wrecked buildings. Fog blurred the contours of the fallen city. A few people wandered down the street, with no discernible purpose, as if trying to make sense of the apocalypse. The apartment buildings I came to find were gone, the stragglers losing their battle against the indomitable tide of change.