Throughout the world traffic cops are one of the most disliked forms of authority.
But last week in China the profession got a boost when a eagle-eyed officer from the eastern city of Hangzhou sensed that a large sinkhole was forming in the middle of a busy crossroad.
In a surveillance video – which was shown on state television – Li Weiqi was on duty at the time of the evening rush hour when he noticed cracks appearing in the asphalt. He began directing cars around the affected area and fetched traffic cones to fence it off from vehicles passing by.
Seconds later the surface gave way, producing a crater five metres wide and two metres deep. Thanks to his quick thinking no one was hurt.
Li said he’d never experienced this situation before but he knew something might be wrong when he saw the cracks
In an interview with the Beijing News he said one impatient driver had argued with him over the rerouting, his loud protests only silenced when the road suddenly collapsed in front of the motorist. “He kept saying thank you for saving my life,” Li said. “I told him it’s not a big deal. This is my job.”
Although Li himself sounded nonchalant, a few days later the Zhejiang government awarded him a medal for his diligence.
Li’s actions even made headlines in international media. CNN uploaded the video to its Facebook account and received over 3.6 million clicks and about 20,000 reposts. “Somebody give that man a beer and a raise!” one internet user wrote.
Praise from Chinese netizens poured in. “That’s what traffic police officers should be like,” said one weibo user. “He should be made into a real cop,” said another, referring to the fact that Li is an auxillary officer in Hangzhou’s traffic police force.
Media reports said Li moved to Hangzhou with his wife five years ago. Like other traffic cops he is forced to inhale some of the worst air in China and constantly gets abuse from motorists. And he only earns Rmb2,000 ($310) a month.
Although sinkholes are not uncommon in more developed cities (one popped up in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights last week), many Chinese internet users turned their focus to the regularity with which they appear in Chinese roads.
“Another Jerry-built project” one weibo user exclaimed after the Hangzhou sinkhole appeared.
A quick search of the term ‘sinkhole’ in Chinese produces dozens of results. For example, there is a video showing a pavement suddenly swallowing five people at a bus stop in Harbin last summer. More recently a farmer in the southern autonomous region of Guangxi lost 25 tonnes of fish after a 5-metre wide sinkhole opened up under his pond.
The local government’s explanation for the accident was that construction work on a nearby metro line caused a water pipe to crack and wash the soil away.
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