WUHAN, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Bidding farewell to their hometown for good, 499 villagers in central China's Hubei Province left their homes Wednesday morning, becoming the first group to relocate to make way for China's South-North Water Diversion Project (SNWD).
Their hometown of Niuhelin District, Danjiankou City, will be submerged by 2014 under 170 meters of water.
"I am surprised nobody cried when the coaches left our village. Last night, we felt sorrow when the whole village gathered to have our last dinner in our hometown together," a villager surnamed Wang said.
The government paid the dinner and organized a troupe of gong and drum players to cheer up the villagers.
Their journey was the starting point for the nation's largest relocation program after that of the Three Gorges Hydro-Power Project, which involved the relocation of 1.27 million.
The relocation for the building of the central route of the SNWD by 2014 will involve 330,000 residents - 180,000 in Hubei and 150,000 in neighboring Henan Province.
The project is designed to take water from a section of China's largest river, the Yangtze, to satisfy demand in the north China's drought-prone megacities - Beijing and Tianjin.
According to the government, from Wednesday until September 30, about 60,000 people will be relocated.
At the farewell scene, a fleet of 15 coaches carried the villagers while 34 trucks loaded with the villagers' belongings was followed by a number of ambulances with the village's elderly, unwell and pregnant.
"We may set a record in terms of speed of relocation -- 60,000 people within 50 days. We want to do it fast so we can finish it before the rainy season hits," said Zeng Wenhua, mayor of Danjiangkou City.
Heading to their new homes 300 kilometers away in neighboring Shayang County, the last image captured by a 12-year-old girl's camera was a slogan: "Niuhelin, your home forever."
"The hometown will be only in my memory," the girl, named Tan Yan, said despondently.
"My husband had been to Shayang County to see our new house. He told us it is a small two-storey house much better than our old bungalow," said the girl's mother, Ke Changrong.
Ke said Shayang government had allocated 6 mu (about 0.4 hectare) of arable land, which will likely help the family of four to increase income from farming.
Compared with her mom's hopeful expectations for the future, Tan Yan was missing her classmates.
"I am the only one to move away in my class. I miss them!" Playing with her camera, Tan Yan said, "I hope the teachers and classmates at my new school will help me adapt quickly."
The relocatees don't have to worry about living necessities in their new homes, since each household has been given enough food for a week as well as cooking utensils.
Mayor Zeng said the relocatees will receive government subsidies for the next 20 years, in addition to a one-off compensation payment for each household.