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China rescue workers give dignity to dead

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-12-06 16:43
HEFEI - Many people see Cao Chunyu as not "clean," but that is what happens when you spend your days trudging through piles of corpses, pulling bodies out of rivers and performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on seemingly lifeless bodies.

Cao, 60, is the founder of Blue Sky Rescue, one of China's largest civilian rescue teams, in eastern China's Anhui Province, though he refuses to see himself as a hero.

"I am an average person without big ambitions. I just do my part to help others in need," Cao says.

Over the past six years, Cao's team has retrieved nearly 1,000 bodies at no charge to anyone in the nationwide rescue missions, with the work personally costing him more than 1 million yuan (145,000 U.S. dollars).

Cao was once a successful entrepreneur in Fuyang City, Anhui, but in 2010 after volunteering at the site of the Yushu earthquake in Qinghai Province, which left more than 2,200 people dead, rescue work became his calling.

Returning from the quake area, he founded the Blue Sky Rescue team, focusing on rescue work and deciding to spend less time on his business.

"At first no people except my wife, son and relatives were willing to join us, as the work has no salary. We did not know anything about volunteering or city rescue. We were just exploring in the dark," Cao says.

A mixture of superstition and the gruesome nature of his work means that many people are wary and fearful of what Cao does, even worrying that contact with him might bring bad luck.

"I was also scared when I first saw dead bodies. But I told myself I was saving people. Corpses should also have dignity. I do not think that salvaging them will bring misfortune," Cao says.
Cao's grievances are compensated by the gratitude he receives from relatives of the dead.

"I still remember a mission in July 2015 when Cao, only in his underwear and life jacket, jumped into a river to salvage a corpse when he saw the relatives deep sorrow. The dead's mother, a seventy year old woman, was so moved that she just knelt down by Cao. Everybody cried," says Han Xiangfei, deputy director of the Blue Sky Rescue team in Fuyang.

"I have no touching stories. All I can do is find the bodies and return them to their relatives, and then leave," Cao says.

Now his 200-member team has earned fame nationwide after taking part in many important rescue operations. In 2014, Cao's team completed over 260 missions, 80 percent of which were due to teenagers drowning.

In a constant effort to improve their work, Cao's team has invented many special rescue tools, which they offer to fire brigades and other rescue teams for free.
"We are volunteers helping people for free and are not doing businesses for money. We will continue our mission," Cao says.
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