Beijingers survive urban flooding

Beijing residents found their own way out at the weekend amid massive rainstorms that made many parts of the megacity swimming pools.

Ten people have died and more than 50,000 have been relocated following the heaviest storm to hit the Chinese capital in 61 years, said the municipal flood control headquarters, citing that the average precipitation reached 170 mm citywide and the maximum exceeded 460 mm.

Quite a few motor vehicles floated on the water that was too much to be drained immediately from streets. Some extended helping hands to neighbors and even strangers who found themselves besieged by the floods.

Many volunteered to offer rescue, helping drag vehicles out of flooded areas and transporting passengers back home by individual means.

At least 80,000 travellers were stranded at the Beijing international airport due to the cancellation of more than 500 outbound flights, hundreds of taxi drivers and motorists in the closest big urban neighborhood of Wangjing drove to the airport to give free rides to strangers, who were advised by the airport to accept such assistance under the precondition of ensured personal and property safety.

The city’s sanitation workers also went above and beyond the call of duty to clean up the mess caused by the flooding. One sanitation worker was spotted submerging himself almost completely to clear a blocked sewage drain in Haidian District.

Other workers were seen acting as “human road signs” near the Beitaiping Bridge, standing in deep pools and guiding vehicles to evade manholes, as a lot of manhole covers were pressured out by underground water to nowhere.

Li Fanghong, a police inspector in suburban Fangshan District, lost his life while trying to rescue villagers who were trapped by the floodwaters. Li was fatally electrocuted by a live wire that had fallen into the water late Saturday afternoon.

Li’s colleagues said he rescued 50 people in the village of Fenghuangting before being hit by the fatal shock.

Fangshan was lashed hardest by the rains, receiving 460 mm of precipitation. Traffic in 12 townships was disrupted, while mobile telecommunication services and Internet access were cut off in six townships.

In Dongjie Village, more than 40 people were forced to evacuate to the roofs of their homes after a nearby river bank was breached by rain-triggered flooding.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this,” said a villager in his 30s.

Torrential rains triggered mudslides in Fangshan and Huairou districts and Miyun County, leaving one person missing and another injured. No deaths resulting from the mudslides have been reported so far, the flood control headquarters said.

While many cheered acts of kindness and bravery urbanites showed during the storm, others expressed anger against patrolling police who handed out violation tickets to stranded cars that had yet to be reclaimed by their escaped owners.

Expressway operations were also criticized, as workers continued to collect fees at toll gates on the airport expressway, despite vehicles, in long queues, mired in knee-high water.

Xia Xueluan, a Peking University sociologist, said city authorities should take a more “humane” approach when handling such emergencies.

“More flexible measures should be adopted in those cases,” Xia said.

The urban drainage system received fierce blame, once again, for the flooding, as heavy rains and snow often disrupted traffic in recent years.


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