Capital flood death toll hits 37
Updated: 2012-07-23 08:00
By Hu Yongqi and Cui Jia (China Daily)
Rescuers evacuate pupils on Sunday, after they were trapped by heavy rain, from a military training center in the Fangshan district of Beijing. Li Wen / Xinhua
Around 350 students trapped by the deluge at Qinglonghu Youth Military Training Camp in the Fangshan district were rescued on Sunday morning. Wang Jing / China Daily
Nearly 60,000 people evacuated from their homes, Hu Yongqi and Cui Jia report in Beijing.
The 20-hour storm that hit Beijing on Saturday claimed the lives of 37 people - 25 of the deaths were caused by drowning.
Millions of people across the capital were hit by the deluge and thousands were evacuated from their homes. The deluge caused losses of at least 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion), according to the Beijing municipal government.
The southwestern district of Fangshan was the hardest hit. Of the 56,933 people evacuated in the city, 20,990 came from Fangshan. There were two landslides in the district.
The rainfall reached 460 millimeters in the district, the highest ever recorded, according to the government.
In the rest of Beijing, the average was 170 mm, the highest since 1951.
The Juma River, which runs across Fangshan, flooded and its maximum volume reached 2,500 cubic meters per second, a flow rate "rarely recorded", according to the Beijing government.
Few Fangshan residents were prepared for the downpour, which occurred almost without warning.
Guo Yanwei, a 25-year-old who works at the Changkuang coal mine in Fangshan, was holding a party for eight people at her home.
At 5:30 pm, she became aware that the water had reached her doorstep. Just 10 minutes later, the floodwaters had reached a depth of 1.3 meters.
"I noticed the weather forecast on Friday, but we did not know the rain would be so overwhelming and flood my home so quickly," she said.
Guo's sister carried her son to the second floor of an adjacent building. Guo and her friends climbed onto the roof of her house.
She shouted warnings to her neighbors to help them escape the water, which rose remorselessly.
Soon, all 50 residents of Guo's village had scrambled onto their roofs in search of temporary safety. Two people shared one umbrella in the forlorn hope of avoiding the unstoppable rain. Some residents tried to climb over the wall that surrounds the neighborhood, but the floodwater was so powerful that some parts of the wall looked as if they were about to collapse and could not support them. The residents stayed on the roofs.
Most of the residents work at the coal mine. They called the mine administrators for help and at around 10 pm a rescue team was sent to the neighborhood to provide help for the women and children.
Located at the foot of a mountain and built on a river embankment, the neighborhood had been vulnerable to flooding for many years. Every summer, the residents complain about the rainfall that could easily deluge their houses.
"We left the neighborhood barefooted, because the flood brought so much mud that our shoes got stuck," said Guo Yanwei.
Electrical items such as computers, refrigerators and air conditioners were destroyed by the flood. "I only managed to grab an expensive camera that I bought recently. Fortunately, no one was injured or died in the startling flood. The most important thing was to be safe," said Guo.
The neighborhood was still a mess on Sunday morning, according to Guo. Five cars floated in the waters, and most of the residents were given shelter in a meeting hall at the mine.
As life in downtown Beijing returned to something approaching normality on Sunday, residents of the suburbs and outlying areas, such as the districts of Fangshan, Mentougou and Shijingshan, were still battling the effects of the storm.
At Qinglonghu Youth Military Training Camp in Fangshan district, about 350 students trapped by the deluge were rescued on Sunday morning.
"At around 6 pm, water flooded the cafeteria while we were having dinner. We had been learning how to escape floods earlier in the afternoon. The tutor told us to stand on the table, but the water soon reached my knees," said Sun Shengbo, 10, from Shandong province.
"We broke a window and let some of the water out, otherwise we would have drowned," said the tutor Li Zhengwang.
The children built a bridge with tables and moved to higher land nearby. "Then firefighters rushed to us and we were saved," said Li.
There was also plenty of damage at Beixin'an Elementary School in Shijingshan district. A cafeteria, a warehouse and a library were among the most-affected buildings More than 5,000 of the 23,000 books donated by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education were submerged, according to Gao Ying, director of general services at the school.
"Apart from the books, we have also had losses totaling about 150,000 yuan ($24,000) as air conditioners, audio devices and other electrical items were damaged," said Gao.
Every summer vacation, the school erects 20-centimeter-high panels against all doors to avoid being inundated by floodwater. The panels did the job in 2004, 2009 and 2011, when Beijing was hit by downpours, but this year they were unable to protect the buildings as the water reached a height of 1.4 meters, he said.
The damage has been reported to the local education bureau and the school authorities are now waiting for funding to repair the facilities.
In Mentougou district, Xiao Feng, 33, was devastated. His house was "too horrible to look at", he said. The family computer was a write-off, the house is full of evil-smelling sludge and the family has had to accept temporary accommodation from a neighbor.
The 33-year-old said he is praying for sunny days to dry out rain-sodden clothing and other day-to-day items. A flood discharge trench near his house had provided a run-off for excess water for decades. It never failed, no matter how much rain fell, according to Xiao. However, earlier this year, the local government blocked the trench as it built a new road as part of a plan to relocate Xiao and his neighbors. On Saturday, digging machines were standing by to restore the trench, but they were still idle when Xiao's house was flooded.
Xiao's friend Wang Tiejun was downcast to see his new car bobbing in the floodwaters. Thousands of cars were submerged in the deep pools caused by the downpour and on Sunday, the Beijing office of Ping An Insurance Group received more than 4,100 reports of damaged cars.
"Underprivileged people like us are always at great risk when faced with natural disasters," said Guo Yanwei. "So we need more help from the government."
Meanwhile, Li Minying and her family, also in Fangshan district, were lucky. The flood smashed the water pipes, but on Sunday morning the district government began providing drinking water for the 50 households in Xixinfang neighborhood. At least clean drinking water is no longer a concern for the families.
The local government confirmed that water will be provided on Monday too and the supply will be restored on Tuesday.
Li was worried that her solar panel will burn out if it's left dry, but she is grateful for small mercies. "Other things are running well for my family, thanks to the help of the government, and I hope every one will be able to overcome this awful deluge," she said.
Contact the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
He Na and Tang Yue contributed to this story.
(China Daily 07/23/2012 page1)