BEIJING, Aug 3 (Reuters) – From coping with dangerously swollen rivers to helping residents trapped in waterlogged cities, China’s disaster response systems are being put to the test after one of the strongest storms in years brought record rainfall that could take weeks to subside.
Typhoon Doksuri battered northern China this week with extreme rain, breaking Beijing’s 140-year rainfall record and dumping amounts of rain that normally fall in an entire year in the populous province of Hebei.
As the last of Doksuri’s rains drift into China’s northeastern border provinces, a region the size of Britain is grappling with the aftermath and the urgent tasks of safely draining overflowing water from reservoirs and rescuing tens of thousands of people trapped in their homes.
As of Thursday, more than 1.2 million people in Hebei had been brought to safety. The amount of rain that fell in the province exceeded the storage capacity of its large and medium reservoirs by more than double, state media said.
The Hai River Basin, where five rivers converge and includes Hebei and Beijing, is undergoing a “flood development process” with its flood control systems experiencing the “most severe test” since floods in 1996, state media reported.
In the summer of 1996, large-scale floods in the Yangtze River basin killed around 2,800 people, damaged millions of homes and inundated swathes of farmland.
Authorities in Hebei raised its level of preparedness for natural disasters, while Beijing kept a warning in place for landslides on the outskirts.
Floodwaters could take up to a month to recede in Hebei, with Zhuozhou the worst-hit city, a water resources department official told state media. About 100,000 people in the city southwest of Beijing have been evacuated, or a sixth of its population.
China has long been aware of the risks of urban flooding, where rapid urbanization is creating metropolitan areas that cover floodplains with concrete. Extreme weather driven by global warming makes it worse.
Rainfall in northeastern provinces could be as much as 50% higher than normal in August, China’s national forecasters warned.
A hard-hit area of Zhuozhou is the Matou district, where roads have turned into rivers, power and drinking water supplies have been cut, cellphone signals are down and many residents are trapped in their homes.
Rescuers in rubber rafts and boats navigated through Matou’s waterlogged streets, stopping to secure trapped residents from high-rise buildings. Some residents were carried to safety by large forklifts, a state television station reported.
“Is there no way to discharge the water now? The water is not receding and the rescue efficiency is too low,” said one social media user who was alarmed that some places in Zhuozhou are under 6 meters (20 feet) of water.
“The six meters of water is not a problem with heavy rain at all, but a problem with flooding.”
But the rescue effort has been difficult.
City and emergency management officials have stopped accepting new rescue teams from elsewhere, state-backed media reported, citing overcrowded access roads and a lack of coordination that boost security.
State media said rescuers from across China have offered to help with Zhuozhou flood relief, but some have not received the approval they need from officials to operate on the ground.
Reporting by Liz Lee, Ryan Woo, Ethan Wang and Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel
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