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Nine Provinces Submerged
Published on Jul 20, 2010Email To Friend    Print Version

Nine Provinces Submerged

Hundreds dead, more missing as weather-battered south China mourns

By LIU YUNYUN

 

BEIJING REVIEW VOL.53 JULY 1, 2010

 


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DRIVING THROUGH: A day of pounding rain on June 8 left Wuhan City of Hubei Province flooded, which caused inconveniences for daily transportation (CFP) 


After being plagued with severe drought earlier this year, the southern part of China has been ravaged by heavy rainfall since May.

According to the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), from June 23-25 a new round of storms swept the southern part of the country including all nine provinces in the south. It was the 11th round of storms since May 5, said CMA.

Torrents roared into homes, drowned people, submerged roads and railways, and devoured crops. Villages in mountainous areas suffered from blackouts as the waters raged.

Train travel was suspended or delayed due to the heavy rains. Food prices, especially vegetables, have been rising as much as 30 percent in some southern cities.

SOS everywhere

From June 14-16, Heyuan City of Guangdong Province encountered massive rainfall, which triggered flashfloods and landslides, smashing many mountainside homes.

On June 16, while saving a senior citizen trapped by a flood in Heyuan, Ge Xiaowei, a police officer died after giving his life jacket to the 69-year-old woman.

On the morning of June 20, due to severe flooding, all highways, railways and roads in Yingtan City of Jiangxi Province were closed. Many water conservancy projects in the province had stored too much water and were ready to burst. Flood control administrators in Jiangxi immediately dispatched 130 police officers to protect the river dams.

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On June 20 the flood control department of Jiangxi reported four counties of Yingtan City were completely overrun with neck-high waters. Residents in Zixi County of Yingtan had difficulties getting drinking water and food, and phone signals were gone.

 

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FLOOD EVERYWHERE: On June 20, a harbor of Nanping City of Fujian Province is submerged under water. From June 18-20, 24 people died in Nanping and 28 are missing (WANG SHANGLIN Jiangxi) 

On the night of June 21 the Fuhe River, Jiangxi's second largest, burst its banks due to days of heavy rainfall. The local flood control office said the opening in the dike expanded to 400 meters the next day. More than 90,000 people affected by flood waters were evacuated. The floods are the worst for 50 years and over 25 million people have been affected, according to the local government.

Hui Liangyu, Chinese Vice Premier and Director of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (shortened as Flood Control Headquarters), ordered the evacuation of locals from the area and emergency measures began.

According to figures from the headquarters, heavy flooding in southern provinces had claimed 365 lives by June 24. An additional 147 are missing and 59.85 million people have been affected. The economic loss was approximately 70.9 billion yuan ($10.4 billion). The figures are on the rise.

Most casualties were due to landslides, mudflows and mountain flash floods caused the pounding rain. By midnight June 22, a total of 2.4 million people living alongside waterways were taken to safe areas while 763,000 houses were swept away or damaged by the flooding. The agricultural sector in the south was heavily impacted, as 3.76 million hectares of farmland were destroyed by storms.

Quick response
The southern part of China is densely populated with the most robust economic growth. Officials said 70 percent of damage caused by the floods in China was in the south.

At 10 p.m. on June 21, Flood Control Headquarters raised the flood emergency response to level two from three, and dispatched seven expert groups to the south to oversee flood control.

To relieve flooding in Jiangxi, the headquarters sent 1,630 rescue boats to the province along with 1,700 portable risk-detection lights and 5,000 life jackets. The air force also sent five helicopters.

Flood Control Headquarters said the Central Government had appropriated 1.29 billion yuan ($189 million) by June 22 to the provinces that had been hit by the flooding.

In spite of the enormous toll, experts believed the damage caused by the floods is less than that of drought or extreme cold, said Li Guoxiang, an agricultural expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In 1998, when the south suffered from the biggest flood in history, the record high for grain output was reached.

Bizarre weather
In an interview with the People's Daily, Zhang Zhitong, Deputy Director of Flood Control Headquarters, said there would be six to eight typhoons hitting the mainland this year and warned they may cause even more damage.

Experts say the southern part of the Huaihe River in central China has entered its major flood season, and the northern part of the country will follow suit.

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A HELPING HAND: Armed police in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region help people of Yao ethnic group build up tents on June 19 for those who lost their homes (XINHUA) 

At the outset of the flood season, the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River in south China took in more water from the upper reaches than previous years. Meanwhile, the water level at Yangtze River is 1 meter higher than average.

To date, more than 110 rivers have risen above their alert levels. Zhang said it's likely the major rivers of south China will swell to cause massive flooding if the storms continue.

The southwestern part of China suffered from a severe 200-day drought ending in April. The dry weather frizzled the soil, which became less viscous. The stones cracked. After such a long drought, soil and stones can easily be washed away, leading to disastrous mudflows.

Old infrastructure

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AGAINST ALL ODDS: Students attending the national college entrance examinations in Xupu County of Hunan Province take boats guarded by soldiers to their exam rooms (WANG JIYUN) 

Ever since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the central and local governments have been striving to build up a concrete fortress to guard against floods and droughts that frequently visit the country.

Huge dams have been built alongside major riverbanks. However, flood control projects in medium- and small-sized rivers are far from sufficient, especially for defense against landslides and mudflows, said Zhang.

Making things worse is a lot of people in rural areas live along mountainsides or at the foot of mountains. Landslides can easily destroy their property no matter how rarely they occur.

The recent floods in cities in the south have also threatened the aging drainage system.

"It seems to me that our country has been coping with floods every year, but why are we having the same problems year after year?" said Xu Qing, a Guangzhou resident, adding "you cannot blame global warming all the time."

"When it comes to floods, people will immediately think of rural and mountainous areas while ignoring the potential damages it might cause to cities," said Shan Chunchang, head of the State Council emergency management expert group at a recent forum on the future of the city.

Guangzhou City, capital of Guangdong, the economic powerhouse of south China, was flooded twice in May. More than 13,000 cars were submerged resulting in more than 100 million yuan ($14.6 million) in insurance claims, Nanfang Daily reported. Underground garages were the hardest hit. In other cities cars, homes and shops were also consumed by floodwaters.

Shan questioned the drainage systems in cities and said they have invested too much aboveground and too little underground.

"All architecture must have emergency entrances and exits for when floods occur," said Ni Yang, Deputy Dean of the Architectural Design Research Institute of the South China University of Technology.

Ni said many domestic architects lack the experience in designing structures that can cope with natural disasters. Unlike foreign parking lots, many Guangzhou garages do not have drainpipes or water pumps installed.

Zhou Yuwen, professor at the Beijing University of Technology and a drainage system expert, said the urban areas are getting larger and gradually taking up rivers and wetlands, which can absorb more water. "The permeable soil has been replaced by concrete," said Zhou.

According to experts, the more prosperous the city becomes, the more it must invest in underground infrastructure like its drainage system. Economic achievements must go side by side with advances in infrastructure. I

s one of the worst hit provinces by flooding. A preliminary estimate of the province's flood control department said by June 21 more than 2 million people in 750 towns and counties in the province were affected by the floods. Five people, three of them children, had been killed. More than 139,000 hectares of cropland were damaged and tens of thousands of houses collapsed during the flooding.

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