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Treasured island

By Robin Goldstein | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-17 07:09

Treasured island

Gulangyu, the small sea island off the coast of Xiamen in Fujian province, boasts many 19th-century buildings as it was once clustered with Western religious groups, international institutions and foreign consulates. [Photo by Hu Meidong/China Daily]

Last November, in the midst of the final stages of the UNESCO World Heritage Site inspection process, Typhoon Meranti slammed directly into Xiamen and Gulangyu.

"After eight years of hard work to restore and protect our heritage properties, the biggest typhoon we'd ever seen hit the island three days before the UNESCO inspector was due to arrive," says director Zheng Yilin of the Gulangyu Administrative Committee.

Xiamen gets a few glancing blows each year during typhoon season, but this was the largest storm to hit the city directly in 50 years.

Nineteen giant ancient trees fell, and more than 3,000 were damaged.

Zheng says that 100 local families lost their homes, and other local families took them in.

"More than 300 volunteers came to help," she says, including many foreigners living in Xiamen who volunteered all day to clean up debris from the beaches and roads.

The UNESCO inspection visit was postponed, but only by a few weeks.

Gulangyu's local government, its citizens, and its volunteers worked day and night hauling garbage, clearing floodwaters, re-paving streets, and reconstructing buildings that had been damaged.

A team of plant biologists trimmed and righted and saved hundreds of injured trees and planted thousands of new ones.

Nine months later, the island is as verdant as it's ever been.

Thankfully, almost all of the island's 19th-century Amoy Decostyle mansions, with their graceful archways and red-brick facades that fuse Minnan (south of Fujian province), or Hokkien, and modernist elements into one unique architectural language, survived the storm with only minor cosmetic damage.

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