Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Beijing’s storm toll climbs to 37


A rescue boat approaches a partially submerged car on a flooded highway on Sunday after heavy rainfalls hit Fangshan District in Beijing, China.

Photo: Reuters

As China’s flood-ravaged capital dealt with the aftermath of the heaviest rain in six decades yesterday, 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 that 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 photographs 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 (US$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,” a commentary in yesterday’s state-run Global Times newspaper said. “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,” Weibo user Wen Hui wrote. “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 a year ago yesterday. 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 said that Saturday’s deluge was historic in nature, with the Global Times saying it was the heaviest rainstorm in the capital in 61 years.

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

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