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Placing sandbags

China endures heavy summer rainfalls every year and is frequently hit by floods and suffers from flood disasters. Every year hundreds die in them during the June and July rainy season. A study in the journal Irrigation and Drainage in 2010, said one third of China's farmland, two-thirds of its people, more than 60 percent of its cities and 80 percent of its GDP were threatened by floods.

About 8 percent of China’s land is located in the mid-and downstream parts of the seven major rivers, country, namely: Yangtze, Yellow, Soughua, Liaohe, Haihe, Huaihe and Pearl River Basin and these rivers are prone to floods. These areas are situated mainly in the the eastern and southern parts of China, where about 50 percent of the total population of China lives. These area also contribute over two-thirds of China’s agriculture and industry based on value.[Source: China: Flood Management by Zhang Hai-lun,World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Global Water Partnership (GWP) Associated Programme on Flood Management, June 6, 2019]

East China and most of South China are dominated by the Eastern Asia monsoon — featuring oceanic air current during summer and continental air current during winter — resulting in dry winters and wet summers. Most of China’s floods are produced by storm rainfall in the summer, with most of the flood disasters occurring in the plain areas of the seven major rivers. Isolated local storms frequently produce flash floods, land-slides and even dam failures in mountainous regions. In addition, ice jams during the spring season in the upper reaches of some of the rivers often result in disastrous flood in their middle and downstream reaches. China’s coasts with a total length of 18,000 kilometers can be affected by storm surge, tides and tsunamis; resulting in serious floods, especially they occur at the same time as river floods.

According to the historical record, 1092 large flood disaster events have occurred since 206 B.C. in China, averaging once in every two years. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the major rivers in China were struck by a number of disastrous floods. However, after 1949 the losses due to flooding were less compared with those before that date because of flood control projects put in place and efforts made in flood preparedness. On the average, about 78,000 square kilometers, which accounts for about 7.8 percent of China's total farmland, was affected annually by floods during the period 1950-1990.

The historical floods and flood disasters have been recorded, documented and are preserved in the archives of government. These descriptive records normally included the highest water level of the rivers, the coverage of flood-affected areas, the water depth, the death toll, the estimated number of houses damaged, etc. The coverage of the flooded area was considered as the major indicator identifying the degree of disaster for different flood events.

Living and Suffering with Floods in China

In the midst of severe flooding in 2020, Alice Su wrote in the Los Angeles Times: The white-haired farmer ran barefoot to his fields at 2 a.m. so he could harvest his crops before the floods came. He was one of tens of thousands of villagers whose homes and fields were about to be engulfed as a dam gushed open to prevent further damage downstream. “We have to think big-picture, think of the greater good,” said the farmer identified as Qiao in a recent local news video from Anhui province. “Isn’t it like this every year?” Qiao spoke as many rural residents of the Yangtze River floodplains do, accustomed to swelling waters whenever big rains hit. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2020]

“In Shexian, a county that suffered its worst flooding in decades when an upstream dam overflowed in the middle of the night, residents said they had been given no warning. “None of this can be reused. It’s all trash,” said Ma Dacong, a waste collector who was removing wooden crates, damaged machinery and soggy mountains of boxed tea at Weiwei Chaye, one of many tea factories whose entire stock had been soaked and spoiled in a matter of minutes. Ma calculated more than $143,000 in damages to his machines and pickup trucks. But his was just a small business, he said. The factories, which were paying him a few thousand dollars each to clean up, had lost much more. Their workers swept out brownish-yellow water from the floors; the smell of rot lingered in the air.

“The water came so fast. We could never have imagined it,” said Shao, 49, the co-owner of a home appliances shop in Shexian. His relatives and shop employees sat on its front steps, rinsing kitchen and bathroom appliance parts that they hoped to still sell. They had been sleeping when the waters roiled around 5 a.m. that day, rushing over riverbanks to swallow sidewalks and streets. By 5:30 a.m., the water was at people’s shins. By 6 a.m., it was approaching their waists. By 7:30 a.m., it was 6½ feet high, and factory workers, shop owners, and high schoolers who’d woken early for their college entrance exams were climbing onto second floors and rooftops to escape. “If the government just gave us half a day’s warning, I could have saved $14,000 to $28,000 in damages,” Shao said. He’d lost at least $43,000, he said, and had received no government relief, a maddening, if typical, echo in this region.

Flooding and Global Warming

According to Bloomberg: The limited number of deaths this time is a testament to how far the country has come, with officials saying that at least 219 people have died or disappeared. Yet flooding in cities is getting worse, a sign of rising populations and failure to execute urbanization policies. Annual average losses from river inundations are the highest in the world. Flood policy hasn’t been made the a priority it should be given the high stakes.[Source: Anjani Trivedi, Bloomberg, August 28, 2020]

“More severe disasters are anticipated. Hydroclimatologist Peter Gleick, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, told the South China Morning Post that climate change is increasing the risks of extreme rainfall events, making it “even more likely that dams like the Three Gorges will be unable to prevent the worst flooding from occurring in the future.”

“A study has found that if temperatures rise by 2 degrees, flows around the Yangtze and other major world rivers will intensify, increasing the frequency of huge floods. Heavy rain days are already more numerous and intense inside cities compared to suburban areas along the Yangtze, a study using rainfall records over two periods between 1961 and 2010 found. Such days increase by 30 percent on average in places like Suzhou, near Shanghai, known for wedding gowns and bridal exports along with big tech factories.

Floods in China in the Early 2000s

During the 2001 summer flood season around 1,100 people were killed across China by the flooding and 1.3 million were left homeless. In August 2002, heavy rains caused Dongting Lake in Hunan Province to overflow it banks. The rains swelled rivers, flowing into the Rhode-Island-size lake. causing lake waters to rise to seven feet above dangerous levels. About 15,000 troops joined 930,00 civilians, working around the clock, to stack sandbags and plug breaches in dikes. Yuenyang, a city of 600,000 on the northeastern bank of the lake, was severely flooded as was Changas, a city on one of the rivers flowing into the lake. Around 600,000 people were evacuated from their homes. There were worries that the dikes would be breached, causing extensive flooding in lowlands inhabited by millions.

In May 2003, landslides caused by heavy rains and floods in Fujian, Guangdong and Hunan Provinces, in southern and central China killed 45 people. More than 200,000 people were forced to flee their homes. In July 2003, landslides caused by heavy rains and floods in the Sichuan regions of central China killed 21 people. More than 10,000 people were evacuated along the Huaihe River in Anhui Province, where dikes were blown up with explosives to keep flood waters way from populated areas. In one case a dike was blown up to protect people in the industrial city of Bengpu but in the process water poured into an area in which 11,130 villages had been evacuated.

In September 2003, torrential rains and floods in central China destroyed more than 17,000 homes in Henan Province and forced more than 200,000 to flee from their homes in Henan and in neighboring Shaanxi Province. Anhui and Jiangsu provinces were also hit. Heavy rains fell day after day, triggering mudslides, cutting off power and telephone and cell phone communications, and destroying roads and bridges. Thousands of villages were affected more than a million people were stranded.

Floods in China in the Mid 2000s

Summer floods in China in 2004 killed more than 1,000 people and forced more than 2 million people to evacuate their homes. Most of the dead were in southern China, particularly in the provinces of Guangdong, near Hong Kong, Hunan and Guizhou and in northeastern China. The biggest single tragedy was the death of 62 children and two villagers, who were swept by a flash flood at a primary school in Heilongjiang Province in northeast China. It was one of the deadliest rainy season rains on record.

In July 2004, floods, mudslides, caved in roads and landslides in southern China killed more than 400 people and destroyed nearly 200,000 homes. Hunan, Yunnan, Henan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Sichuan were the hardest hit provinces. Chongqing recorded the highest rainfall amounts in 200 years. The largest branch of the Yangtze, in Hunan Province, had the worst floods in a century. Road cave-ins cut off Dazhou’s downtown area. The rains, which were associated with the seasonal rainy season, also damaged thousands of acres of crops.

In September 2004, floods caused by heavy rains in Sichuan Province caused authorities to put the Three Gorges dam on alert. The once-a-century rains caused massive floods and mudslides in Sichuan, leaving 174 dead, scores missing and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes. Huge volumes of water backed up behind the Three Gorges dam. Most of the deaths were caused by landslides, fast-moved mud and rock flows and flash floods.

In March 2005, rapid melting of heavy winter snows in Xinjiang caused flooding and landslides that destroyed about 10,000 homes and 100 bridges. Snows in the Tien Shen mountains were thicker than usual. and they melted more quickly than usual as temperatures soared in early March, Torrential downpours from the heaviest rains in a century in July 2005 around the city of Dazhou in Sichuan in southwest China caused severe flooding, resulting in 29 deaths and the evacuation of 150,000 people. Roads to Dazhou were cut off by floods and water levels reached the third floor of some buildings. In August 2005, heavy rains and landslides killed at least 47 across China. Thirty two people were killed in the central province of Hubei.

In July 2006, the worst rains in 45 years in Anhui and Jiangsu Provinces left 30 people dead and destroyed more than 14,000 buildings. In June 2006, 53 people were killed after flash floods ripped through Guizhou Province in southwestern China. Nearly 1,300 homes collapsed in Wangmo and Luodian counties after 211 millimeters of rain fell during a four-hour downpour. In the previous two weeks more 93 people were killed as a result of torrential rains in southern China. Twenty-nine people were killed and 50,000 were evacuated and 23,000 homes were destroyed in Fujian Province, where some places received more than 20 centimeters of rain.

Floods in China in 2007 Kill 700 People

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Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze
during normal conditions
In May, June and July 2007, more than 700 people were killed and 119 million people — 10 percent of China’s population — were affected by floods, lightning strikes and landslides, mostly in southern and central China. More than 220,000 houses and 6 million hectares of farmland were wholly or partially destroyed, causing $7 billions in damage. Some places struggled with near constant heavy rain for days on end. Some blamed global warming for the increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather.

Some of the worst flood occurred along 1) the Huai River in Anhui, Henan and Jiangsu Provinces; 2) and the Jiangsu River, a tributary of the Yangtze in Sichuan. Communities in the mountainous areas around Chongqing were particularly hard hit. Guangdong, Yunnan Guangxi and Guizhou were also hard hit. The flooding was the worst in China since 1998. Farmers suffered the most deaths and damage. Millions were forced to evacuate from their homes. While southern China was experiencing floods northern China was enduring droughts that left 11 million people short of drinking water.

Some people in Yunnan died in violent mudflows. In Chongqing dozens died because the drainage system there was unable to accommodate large mounts of steady rain. In one instance 255 millimeters of rain fell there in a 14 hour period. In Shandong 49 people were killed in a storm that dropped 118 millimeters of rain in one hour. A heavy three-hour downpour there flooded the downtown area of provincial capital of Jinan. According to officials sources 34 people were killed in and around the city but according to one Internet posting more than 100 died in downtown Jinan when a busy supermarket became flooded.

In May 2007, landslides triggered by heavy rains on Garze, a Tibetan region in Sichuan, killed 21 people, buried a village and knocked a bus off a highway. Twelve died in the village and nine died in the bus. Another 340 people were left homeless. . In July 2007, several rivers, including the Yangtze and the Huai, overflowed their banks and left hundreds of thousands homeless. A half million people in Anhui. Henan and Jiangsu fled a deadly flood zone along the swollen Huai River caused by continuous rains through much of June and July. Water had been diverted into other rivers and designated low fields but still waters reached dangerous levels. People in the normally dry provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang were swept away by rain-swollen rivers Heavy rains in Shaanxi in the northeast killed 30 people and cut off roads and telecommunications. More than 8,000 houses were affected by landslides and 35,000 people were left homeless. In August 2007, heavy rainstorms killed at least 31 people in Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces. Seventeen people in Yibin County in Sichuan died in a landslide. Fourteen people in Zhaotong City in Yunnan died in landslides and floods.

Mice Infestation in China Caused by Floods Following Drought

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Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze
during high water period
In the summer of 2007, the combination of a long drought followed by floods produced an infestation of mice around Dongting Lake in Hunan Province that destroyed thousands of acres of crops and damaging important dikes by burrowing through them to reach crops. By some estimates 2 billion eastern field mice — known locally as rats — overran 22 counties around the lake.

There were reports of houses in Hunan being inundated with mice driven from their holes by flood waters. A farmer who woke up one morning to find his fields destroyed by mice told the Washington Post, “You can hear them as they bite the rice — chir, chir chir. It’s deafening.” Another said, “You can easily step on them just by walking on the road, there are so many.”

A massive mice cull was conducted and people were put on the alert for rodent-caused disease. Efforts to poison them worked to some degree but also killed cats, dogs, cows, chickens and pigs. Television footage showed residents of Yoyang city beating mice to death with clubs and shovels. Others were caught with fishing nets and drowned and poisoned. Over a five week period 2.3 million mice — 90 tons of them — were killed. Most were buried in deep pits under layers of lime o prevent the spread of disease.

A drought that lasted through much of the fall, winter and spring, reduced the water levels in Lake Dongting Lake around the cities of Bianhu and Yuey and in Hunan, producing condition ideal for mice breeding. When the gates of the sluice on Three Gorges Dam were opened to relieve flooding water from the Yangtze poured into the lake, causing the mice to flee for high ground. Witnesses said the scene was like a movie about the Apocalypse.

Overpopulations of mice are also being blamed on the harvesting of snakes for food. Snakes can consume up to 400 mice year. To prevent a rat infestation in the future around Dongting Lake there is some discussion of erecting a 40-kilometer-long, one meter-high wall to keep the rats out. Environmentalists say human activity, namely those that have led to a decrease in natural enemies of rats such as snakes and owls, around the lake is the primary cause of the rat problem.

Heavy Rains and Floods in China in 2008 and 2009

Heavy rains and flooding associated with the early summer rainy season in southern China in June 2008 killed at least 176 people and left 52 missing , destroyed or damaged 134,000 homes, flooded 23,000 square kilometers of farm land and homes, destroyed more than 2.32 hectares of crops, caused $4 billion in damage and forced more than 1.6 million people in nine provinces to seek higher ground.

State television showed submerged streets and houses along the Xinjiang River in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces and people seeking refuge on the roofs of their houses. Soldiers and police worked through the night to shore up soggy levees and dams threatening to burst with sandbags. Fields of cucumbers, bitter melons and other vegetables were swamped.

In July 2008,Tropical Storm Fengshen killed at least nine people in southern China. A month later Tropical Storm Fung-wong produced floods that killed at least 11 people in eastern China. Rain in the wake of the storms lasted for three days, causing the Chuhe River in Anhui Province to swell and inundate more than 300,000 hectare of land. In July and August 2009, heavy rains in Sichuan, Jiangxi, Hunan and Guizhou Provinces left 66 people dead and 66 missing. Hundreds of houses collapsed and a dangerous hole was punched into the spillway of a dam. More than 100,000 people had to be relocated.

Heavy Rains and Floods in China in 2010 Kill More Than 4,000 People

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rainfall in June 2010
China experienced its worst flooding in more than a decade in the summer of 2010. Floods, heavy rains and landslides left more than 4,300 people dead or missing, affected 230 million people, caused 15 million to evacuate their homes, caused of billions of dollars in damage, disrupted transportation lines, and toppled hundreds of thousands of houses. Heavy rains saturated mountain slops, causing them to collapse. Rain-swollen rivers swept people away. Three quarters of China’s provinces were affected and 25 rivers set record highs. The Yangtze was so high water was sent surging through the Three Gorges dam. Concerns were raised as to whether the dam was up the challenge. So many crops were destroyed there were sharp rises in food prices.

In late June and early July, torrential rains pounded southern China, forcing 3 million people from their homes. The provinces and region of Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi were affected. Flash flood were triggered; crops were inundated; and traffic and communication was disrupted. Dikes were breached and rivers overflowed their banks in Fuzhou in Jiangxi Province. There soldiers and workers piled rock and sandbag to repair breaches as it prepared for more heavy rains. Premier Wen Jiabao visited rescue workers and people evacuated from flooded homes in Guangxi.

The worst flooding nearly half a century Hainan Island in October 2010 forced the evacuation of 130,000 people. At least 18 centimeters of rain fell in 16 cities on the island. In August 2010, more than 250,000 people evacuated an area along the North Korean border after heavy rains fell there and swelled the Yala River. There were reports of collapsed houses and missing people. Among the dead were a couple in the 70s and a mother and son whose homes were washed away by flash floods.

A disaster was averted in Sichuan Province in late August when all the passengers on a passenger train were evacuated from a bridge on which the train was stuck before the bridge collapsed and several of the train’s carriages fell into the water. It took 10 minutes to evacuate the train. “Less than two minutes later, one carriage fell into the river, about 10 minutes after that, the other one fell in too,” an official told CCTV.

Floods in the Summer of 2011

More than 460 people died or went missing during June and the first two weeks on July in 2011, after extreme summer weather triggered huge floods and deadly landslides. . Torrential downpours hammered large swathes of China since the beginning of June, wreaking havoc in some areas where mudslides and flash floods have torn through towns, killing and trapping countless people. The Ministry of Civil Affairs said that since June 1, rain-triggered natural disasters had left 355 people dead and 112 missing, and had forced the emergency evacuation of more than 2.3 million residents. [Source: AFP, July 18, 2011]

In June 2011 severe floods caused by relentless heavy rains struck central and southern China. Several major rivers became swollen and overflowed their banks, affecting millions and leaving scores dead or missing. Water Resources Minister Chen Lei warned that at least 10 major rivers in the affected areas were threatening to burst their banks. "Severe floods triggered by heavy rains will continue to threaten parts of southern China.," he said in remarks posted on his ministry's website. "There is an increasing possibility that downpours, with enhanced frequency and intensity, will continue to lash regions in the south." [Source: Dan Martin, AFP, June 20, 2011]

Dan Martin of AFP wrote, “Persistent rains since early June have swamped many areas across a wide swathe of China and the state weather bureau on Monday forecast continued downpours over the next three days, with the summer typhoon season approaching. More than 1.6 million people in 13 provinces, regions and municipalities had been evacuated from their homes from June 3-20 due to flooding, the civil affairs ministry said. The rains had left at least 261 people dead or missing while more than 36 million have been "affected" one way or another by the rain and flooding, it added.

Landslides and mudslides caused torrential rains have toppled homes. , and the that caused them are forecast to last through the weekend. Roads and railways have been blocked, but aid supplies are arriving. Heavy rains even struck the far-western Xinjiang region. Four people were reported missing in flash floods there Xinhua reported.

Xinhua reported: “The Ministry of Civil Affairs along with the National Disaster Reduction Commission launched an emergency response in anticipation of more downpours in central and southern China. Meanwhile, they ordered relief-supply reserve stations in 11 provinces and seven cities in these regions to gear up for the expected downpours. Local civil affairs departments were told to enhance measures and work closely with other related departments to prevent flooding, geographical disasters and other secondary disasters, which may be triggered by the rainfall. They were also told to help people by launching safety inspections, setting up temporary shelters, making emergency plans, and evacuating people in the most dangerous areas. [Source: Xinhua, June 13, 2011]

Floods in June 2011 in Southern China

Dan Martin of AFP wrote, “A three-hour downpour dumped a near-record 312 millimetres (12.5 inches) of rain in Wangmo county in Guizhou province in the southwest, while over 200 millimetres of rain had fallen over short periods in other regions, Chen said. Several days of torrential rain in the southwestern province of Sichuan left nine people dead and 27 missing by Sunday, the country's weather forecaster said on its news website. In Yunnan, also in the southwest, five people were killed and another was missing after surging floodwaters swept through a pair of rural villages during a hailstorm on Sunday, Xinhua said. [Source: Dan Martin, AFP, June 20, 2011]

Landslides crushed parts of a railway line in southwestern China, stranding 5,000 passengers on four trains overnight and affecting train service, local railway authorities said Friday. Over 2,000 rescuers with 10 excavators rushed to clear the Chengdu-Kunming railway, which links the provincial capitals of Sichuan and Yunnan, the Chengdu Railway Bureau said in a statement, according to Xinhua. The bureau has sent food and water to the trapped passengers, and buses to evacuate them, the statement said.

Xinhua reported: “ Rain-triggered flooding and landslides in south China have left 105 people dead and 63 more missing over the past 10 days, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said Monday. According to the official count, as of 10 am on June 12, the rain-caused disasters that occurred since June 3 have left 39 people dead and 21 more missing in Hunan Province. In Guizhou Province 24 people died... according to the ministry. [Source: Xinhua, June 13, 2011]

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Making dikes on the Yellow River

Floods in June 2011 in Eastern China

In June 2011, Associated reported: “China says more than 2 million people have been displaced or otherwise affected by flooding in the eastern province of Zhejiang. Xinhua News Agency says torrential rains have left huge areas of the relatively wealthy province underwater, with 171,000 hectare of farmland inundated. Xinhua reported that almost 1,000 businesses have been forced to suspend operations and 2.6 million people have had their lives disrupted. In eastern Zhejiang, the province's main river is at its highest level since 1955, China's flood control agency said. The Qiantang River was 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) above safety levels, it said.Elsewhere in the coastal province, a dike breached and flooded 18 villages while landslides toppled about 2,500 houses and flooded 350 roads, Xinhua said. [Source: Louise Watt, Associated Press, June 17, 19 2011]

Dan Martin of AFP wrote, ‘state television broadcast footage of the flooded streets of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in the centre of the country. Newspapers carried photos of crowded boats evacuating stranded villagers and numerous flooded roads. In the east of the country, a 30-metre-deep sinkhole slashed into a highway. Authorities have evacuated 292,000 people from along the Qiantang river in Zhejiang province on the east coast after heavy rains caused the river to swell dangerously, official Xinhua news agency said. Dykes stretching more than 70 kilometres (40 miles) along the Lan river in the Zhejiang city of Lanxi were at risk of bursting and authorities were preparing evacuation plans for residents in the area, the agency added. Heavy rains have caused the river's water levels to rise sharply, with the Lan reaching its highest mark since 1966, it said. The Lan was already overflowing at some points while other dyke sections were barely holding.” [Source: Dan Martin, AFP, June 20, 2011]

“Authorities have put direct economic losses in Zhejiang province alone at $1.19 billion -- and fruit and vegetable prices have soared by as much as 40 percent after the heavy rains destroyed crops, Xinhua said. The storms have come as a jarring change for provinces including Hubei, Anhui, and Zhejiang, parts of which had until recently sweltered under the worst drought in decades.” Xinhua reported: Prior to the rain, the provinces of Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi — located along the middle and lower parts of the Yangtze River basin - were stricken by a prolonged drought. According to the official count, as of 10 am on June 12, the rain-caused disasters that occurred since June 3 have left 29 dead....In Jiangxi the death-toll stood at 13, according to the ministry.

Heavy Rain in Beijing in the Summer of 2012 Kills Dozens

China suffers flooding and dozens of storm-related deaths every summer rainy season, but heavy downpours like those that occurred in relatively dry Beijing in the summer of 2012 are unusual. In July 2012, AFP reported: “The death toll from the worst rains to hit Beijing in more than 60 years has risen to 77. Beijing authorities had announced that people had died after freak rains caused rivers to burst their banks and flood major highways, submerging large numbers of vehicles. Many residents of China’s sprawling capital had expressed doubts about the official toll, believing the true figure to be much higher. [Source: AFP, July 27, 2012]

“In the worst-hit area of Fangshan, on the city’s mountainous southwestern outskirts, distraught residents reported cars being swept away and said many people were still missing. Many people took to China’s microblog-like weibos to criticise the official response to the disaster. In Qinglonghu, a village about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from downtown Beijing where many migrant workers from surrounding provinces have settled, at least two dozen brick homes were flooded. Local residents said they were terrified to go back into their homes for fear they would collapse. They said they were sleeping outside, had no drinking water or food and had yet to get any assistance from local officials. At least three people from the village were believed killed, residents said, including a man crushed by a falling power line and a woman and her 8-month-old baby who were washed away. "No one wants something like this to happen," said Cao Fuxiang, the woman's cousin. "Life is so difficult. We left our town to make some money and now she has disappeared." Piles of dirt from a large construction site in Qinglonghu appeared to have formed a dam that kept the downpour from draining into a river, worsening the rain's damage.” :::

Associated Press reported: The rain knocked down trees in Beijing and trapped cars and buses in waist-deep water in some areas. In Tongzhou district on the capital’s eastern outskirts, two people were killed by collapsed roofs, one person was fatally struck by lightning and a fourth was electrocuted by a fallen power line as he helped neighbors escape. The city government said 25 drowned, six were killed when houses collapsed, one was hit by lightning and five were electrocuted by fallen power lines. Beijing residents shared photos online of submerged cars stranded on flooded streets, city buses with water up to commuters' knees and cascades of water rushing down the steps of overpasses. Nearly 57,000 people were evacuated from their homes and damage from the storm reached at least $1.6 billion. [Source: Alexa Olesen, Associated Press, July 23, 2012; July 21 2012]

The capital’s suburban Fangshan district received 460 millimeters (18.4 inches) of rain, breaking a record set in 1951, the weather bureau said. It said suburban Pinggu district got 100.3 millimeters (4 inches) of rain in one hour. A flash flood in Fangshan stranded 104 primary school students and nine teachers at a military training site, Xinhua said. It said they were in no immediate danger and that rescuers had taken food to them. Some 14,500 people were evacuated from parts of Beijing, Xinhua said. The Beijing News said they included 5,200 people who left areas in Fangshan that were vulnerable to landslides.

“Xinhua reported that 95 people had died and 45 were still missing across 17 Chinese provinces and municipalities, including Beijing.Elsewhere, six people were killed by rain-triggered landslides in Sichuan province in the west, Xinhua said, citing disaster officials. Four people died in Shanxi province in the north when their truck was swept away by a rain-swollen river. The government warned of more storms over the following 24 hours for China’s northeast, the port city of Tianjin east of Beijing, Inner Mongolia in the north, Sichuan and neighboring Yunnan province, and Guangdong and Hainan provinces in the southeast.

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Yellow River Flood in 1938

Inadequate Drains and the 2012 Floods in Beijing

After the heavy rains and flooding in Beijing in 2012 some Beijing residents questioned whether the city's rapid push for modernization came at the expense of basic infrastructure such as drainage networks. Authorities in Beijing were still trying to pump water from sections of flooded highway. Some said the scale of the death and destruction from “could have been lessened if the government had issued better warnings, including by SMS, and modernised Beijing’s ancient drainage systems. But many of the more critical posts were deleted from the Internet, apparently by censors.China’s state-run media was ordered to stick to positive stories or ordinary people’s heroism during the disaster, leading to accusations of an official cover-up. [Source: AFP, Associated Press, July 2012]

Associated Press reported: “Although Beijing's worst-hit areas were in rural hilly outskirts of the city, the scale of the disaster was a major embarrassment for China's showcase capital, where such things are not supposed to happen. The city has seen tens of billions of dollars poured into its modernization, including iconic venues for the 2008 Olympics, the world's second-largest airport, new subway lines and dazzling skyscrapers. But the floods raised questions about whether basics like drainage were neglected.If so much chaos can be triggered in Beijing, the capital of the nation, problems in urban infrastructure of many other places can only be worse," said a commentary in Monday's state-run Global Times newspaper. "In terms of drainage technology, China is decades behind developed societies." The criticism mirrors some of that seen after a high-speed train crash that killed 40 people in Wenzhou in southeastern China in 2011. That turned into a public-relations nightmare for the government and led many to question the quality of infrastructure in the country and the government's transparency on disasters. [Source: Alexa Olesen, Associated Press, July 23, 2012]

The China Daily reported: “Has rainwater drainage system received enough attention in our urbanization drive over the past few decades? Beijing authorities have admitted that the capital's drainage system leaves much to be desired. It could drain out rainwater only if precipitation is 30 millimeters or less an hour. That is also true of most cities across the country. The deluge in Beijing has led to dozens of deaths and an estimated economic loss of 10 billion yuan ($1.56 billion). These losses could have been avoided had the capital done a better job of its drainage system during its urbanization drive over the past decades. [Source: China Daily, July 24, 2012 :::]

“Beijing will gradually improve its drainage system and upgrade the pumping stations to drain out rainwater from under its underpasses in urban districts before 2015, after which even a precipitation of 60 millimeters an hour is unlikely to cause inundation. Apparently, many cities will have to do the same. China's urbanization process is far from over, and many prefecture- and county-level cities are yet to start large-scale construction or are in the middle of their urbanization drive. The embarrassment many big cities face because of rainstorms should remind planners to pay adequate attention to the designing and building of a foolproof drainage system. Futuristic buildings and wide streets can be enjoyed only if they are supported by a sound utility system, which includes large sewers and efficient pumping stations. :::

“If a sound drainage system is built in advance, the cost would undoubtedly be lower than when it needs to be upgraded or rebuilt after a city has completed its urbanization drive above ground. But for that urban planners need to have a broad vision for future development. "In just one day, it rained as much as it normally rains in six months in Beijing," said Zhang Junfeng, a senior engineer from the Ministry of Transport who runs weekend tours of Beijing reservoirs and gives lectures on water conservancy. "No drainage system can withstand rains this big." :::

Floods in China in 2013 and 2014

In February 2013, China.org reported: “An area near a water reservoir in north China's Shanxi province has been evacuated after part of its dam wall collapsed, causing flooding, said a local official. The top of an irrigation water duct of Quting Reservoir in Hongtong county caved in around 7am on Friday, leading to the partial collapse of its dam walls, said the official. No casualties have been reported as residents downstream were evacuated. The Ministry of Water Resources has sent a work team to the scene to deal with the flooding. Workers are using sand bags and other materials to seal the breach. The irrigation water duct was established in 1959. Its old age was one cause of the collapse, according to local officials. [Source: China.org, February 17, 2013]

In May 2013, Associated Press reported: “Chinese authorities say rainstorms that battered southern China this week have killed 55 people and left 14 others missing.The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs website says at least nine provinces have had storms and some flooding and landslides since Tuesday. It says Guangdong province has been hit the hardest, with 36 deaths and 10 missing people, followed by Jiangxi province, where six people are reported dead and four more missing.Guangdong's weather service forecasts more heavy rain along with thunder, strong wind gusts and hail in the coming days and warns of flooding and mudslides. [Source: Associated Press, May 18, 2013]

In July 2013, flooding in Western China killed dozens Associated Press reported: “Floodwaters surging through Himalayan foothills in western China have swept bridges, houses and hillsides into roiling brown rivers, leaving at least 25 people dead and dozens missing as heavy rains buffet many parts of the country. Flooding in the western province of Sichuan was the worst in 50 years for some areas, with more than 100,000 people forced to evacuate. Nationwide, at least 44 people have died, around 66 were missing, and at least 1.6 million have been otherwise affected since Sunday, according to figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the official Xinhua News Agency. Thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged and transportation brought to a virtual standstill in hard-hit areas. [Source: Associated Press, July 11, 2013]

Many of the casualties in Sichuan were from a massive landslide that struck a scenic resort outside the city of Dujiangyan. An entire hillside collapsed onto clusters of holiday cottages where city dwellers escape summer heat, a survivor told the official Xinhua News Agency. "The noise was like thunder and went on for two or three minutes. My first thought was that I too would be buried," Gao Quanshi, 47, was quoted as saying. Phone lines were cut, so villagers had to trek to nearby government offices to call for help, he said. Flooding in Sichuan has affected 360,000 people, damaging or destroying 300 homes, and forcing at least 6,100 emergency evacuations, state media reported. Images from the scene showed a valley filled with mud and rocks with only the tops of trees sticking through. Drenched rescuers wearing helmets and life jackets worked mostly with hand tools to prevent harming any survivors still trapped beneath. A total of 352 tourists had been rescued from the area Xinhua said. Overall in Sichuan, there were are least 25 dead and around 50 missing, state media reports said.

In some areas the current floods are already the worst in half a century. Reports said the 94 centimeters (37 inches) of rainfall that fell on Dujiangyan over 40 hours was the heaviest since records began being kept in 1954. Also in the west, more than 2,000 people were rescued after being trapped for several hours in a highway tunnel between Dujiangyan and Wenchuan. Bridges were closed and train service suspended in some parts of the province. The flooding also caused the collapse of an almost 50-year-old bridge in a neighboring county, sending six vehicles into the raging waters and leaving 12 people missing. The region lies in the foothills of the Tibetan Plateau, where mountains rise sharply from the densely populated Sichuan basin. Fast-running rivers quickly overflowed their banks, flooding scores of towns and parts of the provincial capital of Chengdu, where the waters rose to the second floor and covered the tops of cars. In Chengdu, stone bridges and brick houses along river banks were swept away. In the northern province of Shanxi, meanwhile, at least 12 workers were killed when a violent rainstorm caused the collapse of an unfinished coal mine workshop they were building. Another three people were drowned in a car in Hebei province outside the capital, while an additional 11 people were reported dead or missing in Yunnan province, Beijing, Inner Mongolia, and Gansu province.

In June 2014, five days of rainstorms in southern China have left 26 people dead and another three missing and led to direct economic losses of $650 million, according to China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Associated Press reported: A total of 337,000 people were evacuated and 115,000 were in urgent need of relief supplies as a result of the rainstorms.Eleven of the fatalities occurred in Hunan province, where another two people are missing, the ministry said. The five other provinces where people have died included Jiangxi and Fujian. The rainstorms across nine provinces have led to floods and landslides, and toppled more than 8,700 houses, damaged another 66,000 and left 42,000 hectares of crops unusable, the statement said. [Source: Associated Press, June 23, 2014]

In June 2014, five days of rainstorms in southern China have left 26 people dead and another three missing and led to direct economic losses of $650 million, according to China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Associated Press reported: A total of 337,000 people were evacuated and 115,000 were in urgent need of relief supplies as a result of the rainstorms.Eleven of the fatalities occurred in Hunan province, where another two people are missing, the ministry said. The five other provinces where people have died included Jiangxi and Fujian. The rainstorms across nine provinces have led to floods and landslides, and toppled more than 8,700 houses, damaged another 66,000 and left 42,000 hectares of crops unusable, the statement said. [Source: Associated Press, June 23, 2014]

Heavy Rain and Floods in 2016

In July 2016, heavy rain in China killed at least 170 people, with many more missing, and forced thousands from their homes. The Los Angeles Times reported: “Heavy rains touched off floods and landslides. State-run media put the economic losses at over $2 billion. Northern China is where most of the deaths were concentrated, the worst-hit area was Hebei province, which encircles the capital, Beijing. At least 114 people died there. An additional 111 people were still missing in Hebei as of Saturday.Authorities put the number of affected people in Hebei alone at more than 9 million, with nearly 300,000 evacuated. In the city of Xingtai, about 200 miles southwest of Beijing, at least 25 people were dead, and 13 were missing after the Qili River overflowed its banks in the early hours, flooding homes as people slept. Photos and videos circulating online appeared to show residents retrieving the bodies of dead children from the floodwaters. The Beijing News reported that the dead and missing included five children ranging in age from 3 to 10, as well as an 86-year-old man. Some residents suggested the disaster in Xingtai might have been man-made, resulting from the release of floodwaters from a nearby reservoir. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2016]

Reuters reported: Rainstorms inundate the southern part of China every year during the summer monsoons, but 2016 was particularly wet. Nearly 50,000 homes have collapsed. In the central province of Henan, 15 people were killed and eight were missing after thunderstorms and strong winds forced 72,000 people from their homes and damaged 18,000 houses. Three days of heavy rain in southern China in early July left 50 people dead and another 12 missing and destroyed thousands of homes. State television showed people using boats to navigate flooded streets in eastern Anhui province. Anhui’s civil affairs department said 18 people have died and four are missing due to heavy rain since June 18. Vice Premier Wang Yang warned there was a high possibility of floods in the Yangtze River and Huai River basins, adding th situation was made worse by “super El Nino.” El Nino is the natural warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide and the latest occurrence of the phenomenon has been blamed for triggering droughts in parts of Africa and India and playing a role in a record hurricane season in the Pacific. “The Yangtze River flood control headquarters has ordered local authorities to remain on high alert.

Associated Press reported: “Torrential rains caused the deaths of 27 people and left a further 12 missing in central Hubei, the provincial civil affairs department said. Nearly 400,000 people have been evacuated or are in need of aid in the province. Almost 15,000 houses have collapsed or are seriously damaged and more than 500,000 hectares of crops have been affected, causing direct economic losses of 5.669 billion yuan ($850 million), the department said. “In mountainous Guizhou province in the southwest, the bodies of 23 people were found after a landslide buried a village Friday, Dafang county government said. Seven people were injured. [Source: Associated Press, July 2, 2016]

Anger, Misery, Survival and Good Deeds in the 2016 Floods

AFP reported: “Angry villagers in Xingtai have blamed local officials for failing to warn them of the impending deluge, with Hebei Satellite TV showing one resident saying water had reached chest-level before an alarm was raised. “Local deputy Communist Party secretary Wang Qingfei drew ire for earlier comments that there had been "no casualties" in the flood, the Beijing News said. A video of him kneeling before wailing relatives who lost family members spread on social media, showing three distraught women clutching at his arm while asking how many had died.[Source: AFP, July 24, 2016]

Yanan Wang wrote in the Washington Post: Li Zuming wiped away tears as he stood knee-deep in floodwaters at a farm in China's Anhui province. On either side of him were rows of pigs, their bodies half-submerged and their snouts poking out from between the bars of their pens, as if beckoning to Li. The farmer had been told that environmental regulations prevented the 3,000 pigs from being saved because their release could spread disease. A photographer captured him and another employee sorrowfully bidding the animals farewell. Li's tale, which was widely shared on Chinese social media, is among many to emerge from destructive floods along the Yangtze River. [Source: Yanan Wang, Washington Post, July 7, 2016]

“Xinhua reported that police officers managed to rescue an 80-year-old blind woman by placing her in a "buoyant drinking water vat" and pushing her out of her home. The woman lived alone on the second floor of a building whose first floor had been flooded by a nearby river. Four police officers trekked through chest-deep water to reach her and carried her out of harm's way in the vat. State publications also chronicled the good deeds of a young firefighter dubbed "Flying Brother" for reportedly saving several children while dangling from a rope suspended above the flooded streets of Hubei province. Holding onto a child with one arm and the rope with another, the firefighter, Liu Xiaopeng, brought them to safety one by one. Other rescue workers carried children above their heads as they waded through the waters.

“When similar floods hit Shanghai month earlier, university students held a fishing contest for the goldfish from the overflowing ornamental ponds around campus, China Daily reported. And after the streets flooded in Hunan province in May, residents brought out nets to capture fish swimming alongside cars.

Floods in 2020

China experienced its most destructive summer flood season in more than three decades in 2020, when a series of floods killed 397, affected 14.3 million, and contributed to $21.8 billion in economic losses, according to UN estimates. Central and southern China’s were hammered by severe summer floods after water in rivers reached record levels. More than 2 million people were evacuated in June and July along the Yangtze River, where 158 dead or missing were reported. More than 2.4 million hectares (6.1 million acres) of crops were impacted. [Source: BBC, 2021; Bloomberg, July 27, 2020]

The 2020 floods were the worst in decades, with 433 rivers surging above flood control levels. 33 of them setting records. Bloomberg reported: “Authorities ordered the Three Gorges Reservoir to save its water-storing capacity in preparation for more flows, and forecast another three days of torrential rain in the southern region. The Three Gorges Reservoir is expecting water inflows to surge to about 60,000 cubic meters per second. The reservoir level was at 159.46 meters, down from 164.18 meters a week earlier. Its maximum capacity is 175 meters.

The floods affected more than 54 million people, including 3.7 million displaced, destroyed 41,000 houses and damaged 368,000 more, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management. Death tolls and destroyed homes were fewer than in years past, but displacement and economic loss are far higher. In July 2020, the government blasted open a dam in Anhui. On the same day, more than 16,000 people were trapped in Guzhen town in the same province as the waters surged over three meters (10 feet high) and broke through levees. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2020]

AFP reported from Jiujiang, in China's central Jiangxi province: Soldiers erected sandbag flood barriers in a city near China's largest freshwater lake after the heaviest rainfall in nearly six decades drenched the swollen Yangtze River basin. The vast Yangtze drainage area has been lashed by torrential rains since June, forcing the evacuation of millions more across several provinces. Flooding along the river has been an annual summer scourge since ancient times, but this year's inundation has been especially severe.The downpours intensified in early July, causing dozens of Yangtze-basin waterways to post record-high water levels, while more than 400 had exceeded warning levels, Vice Minister of Emergency Management Zheng Guoguang said: “Since June, average precipitation in the Yangtze river basin has been the highest since 1961." [Source: AFP, July 15, 2020]

Authorities in central China blasted a dam to release surging waters behind it. State broadcaster CCTV reported the dam on the Chuhe River in Anhui province was destroyed with explosives, after which the water level dropped by 70 centimeters (2 feet).. A week earlier massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze opened three floodgates as the water level behind the massive dam rose more than 15 meters (50 feet) above flood level.Elsewhere, soldiers and workers have been testing the strength of embankments and shoring them up with sandbags and rocks. Firefighters and others finished filling in a 188-meter (620-foot) break on Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, that had caused widespread flooding across 15 villages and agricultural fields in Jiangxi province. More than 14,000 people were evacuated.

400 Dead in 2021 Henan Flooding; 14 Die in a Flooded Zhengzhou Train Tunnels

In July 17-23 2021, 398 people died or went missing in Henan province after unusual torrential rains and flooding there. The government called the Henan floods the worst since China began keeping meteorological records. The city of Zhengzhou was hard hit and received the most press attention. The flooding of a subway line there where 14 people drowned was widely discussed on Chinese social media. Henan is a populous province in central China about twice the size of Austria. Zhengzhou, its capital, is home to about 12 million people. [Source: Reuters, January 21, 2022]

The BBC reported: “Days of rain have caused widespread damage and led to 200,000 evacuations. Above ground, roads have been turned into rivers, with cars and debris swept along in fast moving currents. A number of pedestrians have had to be rescued. Several dams and reservoirs breached warning levels, and soldiers were mobilised to divert rivers which burst their banks. Flights and trains in many parts of Henan were suspended. The record-breaking rainfall flooded underground subway tunnels in Zhengzhou, leaving passengers trapped in rising waters. Video shared on social media showed evening commuters barely able to keep their heads above water while water rushed down stairs onto platforms. “More than 500 people were eventually rescued from the tunnels in Henan province, officials said. [Source: BBC, July 22, 2021]

“In Zhengzhou, the equivalent of a year's average rainfall has fallen in just three days. Some of the city's flood defences were overwhelmed and water began flowing down into the railway tunnels. Survivors have described how water leaked through the doors, rising slowly from "our ankles to our knees to our necks". "All of us who could, stood on the subway seats," one woman wrote on Chinese social network site Weibo. Children were lifted out of the water by their parents, while others threw off anything which might hold them down. After about half an hour, one passenger said it became "hard to breathe".An order to shut down the line came at 18:10 local time so the evacuation could begin, Zhengzhou government officials said in a statement. Five people are being treated for injuries, with 12 having died. Elsewhere in the central Chinese city, children had to be rescued from a flooded nursery school. “State media aired footage of them being floated out in plastic tubs by rescuers.

“Henan has experienced "rare and severe rainfall", China's meteorological authority said. Zhengzhou saw 624 millimeters of rainfall on one day, with a third of that amount falling between 16:00 and 17:00 alone, which "smashed historical records". “Associated Press reported: “At least 10 trains carrying about 10,000 passengers were halted, including three for more than 40 hours, according to Caixin, a business news magazine. Sections of 26 highways were closed due to the rain, the Transport Ministry. The already drenched city of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, was hit by 20 centimeters (8 inches) of rain from 4 to 5 p.m., the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Henan weather agency. The torrent of rain turned streets into rapidly flowing rivers and inundated subways stations and cars. Videos posted online showed entire neighborhoods covered in waist-deep water and vehicles floating in the muddy mire. "Never in my life had I seen so much rain," one man told the BBC."There was one hour where the rain was just pouring down on us from the heavens, and everything went completely white." [Source: Associated Press, July 20, 2021]

The rising waters were not just confined to Zhengzhou. A 20-metre (65 foot) breach emerged in the dam in Luoyang city after it was damaged by storms. China's military blasted the dam to release floodwaters. Soldiers had been deployed to the area and a statement from the army warned it could "collapse at any time". Another user said that residents in Sishui town were stuck on rooftops. "We don't know how to swim… the whole village is about to be washed away," the person wrote.

Beijing punished 89 officials and company managers for dereliction of duty around catastrophic floods Xu Liyi, secretary of the Communist Party Committee in Zhengzhou and Zhengzhou vice-mayor Wu Fumin were fired. After an an investigation Beijing cited poor handling of the emergency response to the floods as reasons for the punishment. Reuters reported: “Company managers responsible for the construction of Zhengzhou's infrastructure,including the subway line where 14 people drowned, were among 11 people arrested or detained as a result of the central government investigation. “There was a problem of late reporting and concealment in the reporting of disaster information, and negligence... from lower-level party committees, governments and relevant departments," the investigation report said. [Source: Reuters, January 21, 2022]

Image Sources: 1) Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; 2) Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; 3) Columbia University; 4, 7,8 ) NASA ; 5, 6) Xinhua

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

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