Flood crisis: Beijing residents slam govt

They blame poor planning, ageing sewer system for recurrent disasters
Peh Shing Huei Straits Times 24 Jul 12;

BEIJING - It was a Saturday and a record rainstorm thrashed the Chinese capital, flooding the modern city of glass and steel built on an ancient foundation, and leaving many injured. The year was 2004.

Last Saturday, eight years later, history repeated itself - on a far more tragic scale.

Heavy rain not seen in 60 years lashed the usually arid northern city, killing at least 37 with seven missing as Beijing once again succumbed to the deluge.

The capital's now-familiar flood crisis has provoked the ire of its residents, even as the authorities tried to put a positive spin on the crisis by playing up good Samaritans who rescued others.

The target of attack is Beijing's sewer system, which is widely known to be ill-equipped for heavy rain and had been strongly criticised after the 2004 debacle.

While it has been improved since, the city still quickly gets ankle-deep in rainwater after a regular shower.

'Beijing is our country's capital. Why can't our government officials ever learn their lessons?' asked netizen Yang Jia on his Sina Weibo account.

The city's sewer system is largely old, even ancient, with some key drains dating as far back as the Ming Dynasty, which ended in the mid-17th century.

When the rain is too heavy, as was the case last Saturday, the city government has to open up manhole covers to speed up drainage.

In June last year, a heavy downpour here led to the drowning of two men in their 20s, after they fell into a manhole with the cover removed. A month later, in what was called the heaviest rain in 13 years, four were killed.

Such recurrent tragedies have infuriated the locals, who have decried them as an embarrassment to Beijing, proud host of the Olympics in 2008.

Parts of the Beijing-Guangdong highway, a major route to the south, remained inundated yesterday, with netizens likening the expressway to a river.

They blamed the casualties on the government's poor planning instead of an act of god.

'Is this just a natural disaster or is it caused by men?' asked netizen Yang Qingxiang on Sino Weibo.

Hydro expert Yang Jun told The Straits Times that Beijing's drainage design has not caught up with the fast-developing city.

'The government is improving it, but we wish they can do a faster job,' said the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics professor.

Criticisms were also levelled at the Beijing government for lavishing money on so-called 'vanity projects' like the Bird's Nest stadium instead of nuts-and-bolts infrastructure.

'Since the reform and opening up, leaders at all levels have been interested only in political achievements when developing cities, paying attention only to 'face-giving projects',' wrote commentator Jiang Chengbo in the influential Southern Metropolitan newspaper's website. 'That has led to most cities lacking macro planning and long-term design.'

But the authorities appear to be diverting the public's attention to more uplifting stories of heroic acts during the flood.

The official Xinhua news agency highlighted the story of police officer Li Fanghong, who was electrocuted by a fallen power line while trying to evacuate villagers.

There were also reports of residents near the airport who drove stranded travellers home, according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

But, unfortunately, according to local reports, drivers were still being stopped on the airport expressway and charged toll fees.

Six million people affected

BEIJING - Besides the capital Beijing, other parts of China were also hit by torrential rain over the weekend. More than six million people across the country were affected.

Officials reported more than 90 deaths in 17 provinces including Hebei, Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanxi and Shaanxi, and municipalities.

The southern island of Hainan and nearby Hong Kong were lashed by heavy rain and strong winds yesterday as typhoon Vicente approached.

Hong Kong raised the No. 8 tropical cyclone warning signal, closing financial markets, schools, businesses and government services.


Deadly Beijing flood raises questions about whether infrastructure ignored amid modernization

Alexa Olesen The Associated Press Yahoo News 23 Jul 12;

BEIJING, China - As China's flood-ravaged capital dealt with the aftermath of the heaviest rain in six decades Monday, including the deaths of 37 people, questions were being raised about whether the city's push for modernization came at the expense of basic infrastructure such as drainage networks.

Rescuers were still searching buildings that collapsed during Saturday night's torrential downpour and some roads that were covered in waist-deep water remained closed. The city government said as of Sunday night, 25 people had 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.

The official China Daily newspaper reported that 60,000 people had been evacuated from their homes and damages from the storm had reached at least 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion).

Although the worst-hit areas were in rural hilly outskirts of the city, the scale of the disaster was a major embarrassment for Beijing, the showcase capital of China where things like this are not supposed to happen.

The city has seen tens of billions of dollars poured into its modernization, adding iconic venues for the 2008 Olympics, the world's second-largest airport, new subway lines and dazzling skyscrapers — all while basics like water drainage were apparently neglected.

Many were left wondering how badly prepared other less-prosperous parts of China must be.

"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."

There was similar criticism on the popular microblog service, Sina Weibo.

"This is China's capital of Beijing. Look what happens when it's hit by a rainstorm," wrote Weibo user Wen Hui. "The drainage systems of Rome that were built 2,500 years ago are still in use and you can drive a car through them. Can a dog get through Beijing's drainage tunnels?"

The criticism mirrors some of that seen after a high-speed train crash in Wenzhou in southeastern China a year ago Monday. 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.

Some pointed out that Saturday's deluge was historic in nature, with the Global Times noting it was the heaviest rainstorm in the capital in 61 years.

"In just in 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."

The capital's skies were clear Monday, with traffic largely back to normal and the city's main airport operating normally after hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed over the weekend. But hard hit areas were still feeling the effects.

In Qinglonghu, a village about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from downtown Beijing where many migrant workers from surrounding provinces have settled, at least two dozen single-story brick homes were flooded. Local residents said Monday they were terrified to go back into their homes for fear they would collapse. They said they 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, locals said, including a man crushed by a falling power line and a woman and her baby daughter who were washed away.

"We couldn't save them," said 50-year-old Wang Lianfeng, a villager who had taken shelter on a roof when she saw the woman and her 8-month-old girl swept away. Wang sobbed as she described being unable to reach them. She said the body of the girl was found but the mother is still missing.

Other areas around Qinglonghu appeared minimally affected. Piles of dirt from a large construction site appeared to have formed a dam that kept the downpour from draining into a nearby river.

The village is in Fangshan district, the worst hit area of the city, which received 460 millimeters (18.4 inches) of rain on Saturday.

Heavy rain also proved deadly elsewhere in the country. Six people were killed by 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. At least eight people died and 17 were missing after heavy rains hit in neighbouring Shaanxi province.

China suffers flooding and dozens of storm-related deaths every summer during its rainy season, but such a heavy downpour in relatively dry Beijing is unusual.

Associated Press video journalist Isolda Morillo and researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.