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'Worst rains in a decade' o fall on Beijing
By Liang Chao and Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-08-09 05:52

Wary Beijingers had one fearful eye on the skies yesterday as tropical storm Matsa moved towards the city but the expected heavy downpours and strong winds did not materialize until early today.

Authorities have prepared to evacuate about 40,000 people living close to mountains in suburban Beijing should there be a threat of landslides or flooding.

Beijing weather officials on Sunday forecast that the thunderstorms would be the worst in a decade.

Early yesterday, Matsa which has been downgraded to a tropical storm hit East China's Shandong Province, bringing an average of more than 30 millimetres of rain and a maximum of 150 millimetres in northeastern regions, local weather agencies said.

Late last night the storm was centred on Shandong, pushing northwest at 15 kilometres an hour. It is likely to hit Beijing today, said Yang Keming, chief weather forecaster at the National Meteorological Centre.

Rainfall of up to 60 millimetres is expected and more in mountainous areas including Miyun and Fangshan, he said.

However, Yang was confident there would be no gale-force winds in Beijing over the next two days.

Matsa wreaked havoc in East China over the weekend 1.5 million people were evacuated and about 17 million people affected in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Fujian, Shandong provinces and Shanghai Municipality.

"The death toll yesterday rose to at least 13 and two people are still missing," a source with the Ministry of Civil Affairs said yesterday.

The accompanying heavy rains inundated 758,000 hectares of farmland, toppled 25,000 houses and damaged another 100,000 homes, he said, adding that direct losses amounted to 8.9 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion) more than that caused by the previous typhoon, Haitang.

In urban Beijing, eight districts are on high alert, said the Beijing Flood Control and Drought Relief Office.

Work has been ordered to be stopped at about 6,000 construction sites in the city to prevent injuries should structures collapse.

In Xuanwu District, home to the city's oldest hutong area, inspection teams have been sent to reinforce roofs and prevent flooding.

In the suburban Fangshan District, more than 5,000 people in 11 townships participated in an evacuation drill last month to prepare for calamities.

"We are fully prepared for any emergency," said Yue Zhengxin, an official at the Fangshan District Flood Control and Drought Relief Office.

Li Haiyi, director of the Flood Control and Drought Relief Office of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Communications, said water pumps are on standby to clear roads and ensure smooth traffic flow.

To prevent water entering the metro system, sandbags and special gates will be used, he added.

It is extremely rare for Beijing to be hit by major tropical storms. Only four typhoons have swept through the city since 1949, killing a total of 86 people, Xinhua said.

(China Daily 08/09/2005 page2)

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