Torrential rains in Beijing on Saturday — the most in 60 years, since the city began to keep records — have left 37 dead. 25 people drowned (including a man whose car became trapped under a bridge), six were crushed in collapsing houses and five, including a police officer, electrocuted. At least 50,000 people had to be evacuated.
The lack of warning about the massive rainfall, and the failure of the sewer system, put into question Chinese authorities’ preparations in the event of such disasters.
18 inches of water flooded Beijing’s southwestern area of Fangshang and the heavy rains also led to at least ten people drowning or dying in landslides elsewhere in the country. All told, about 1.9 million people have been affected by the rains, with flood and economic losses estimated at 10 billion yuan (about $1.5 billion).
80,000 passengers were stranded at Beijing Capital International Airport overnight as 500 flights were cancelled. The city’s extensive subway system still remained open but was clogged with people unable to drive and walk in the deluge of water. This video shows the extent of the floods and a man taking a dip in the waters.
Harsh Criticism on Microblogs
Authorities came under harsh criticism on Weibo and other microblogging services in China (where Twitter is banned) for failing to make sufficient preparations — the government had made a severe storm warning several days before — and for the inadequacy of the sewer system, despite infrastructure upgrades. Bloomberg quotes Guangdong television host Wang Mudi, who questioned to what use a 4 trillion yuan stimulus issued during the 2008 global financial crisis had been put to: “The sewer system belongs to infrastructure, right? Then how much money of the 4 trillion yuan flowed to the sewer system?”
Another user from Shaanxi said people should learn to swim due to the government being so “unreliable,” notes the BBC. A user from Jiangsu wrote “Wishing you happy-ever-after in the afterlife, let’s hope at least it has better drainage.”
Beijing is located on the edge of the Gobi desert and is “ill-equipped to handle heavy precipitation,” says the New York Times. As residents pointed out, 600-year-old ditches are still in place around the Forbidden City and kept the national monument “relatively dry,” says the BBC.
The Beijing Times reports that traffic authorities will not issue tickets to people who had to abandon their cars due to the rains. Some residents, says the Guardian, also noted one positive result of all that rain: “The official pollution index, which had showed an unhealthy rating before the storm hit, registered ‘excellent’ on Sunday, with the air noticeably free of its normal acrid smell.”
In this video, people push a police car stranded in Beijing streets.
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