Caixin
Jul 30, 2012 07:20 PM

Swept Away Without Warning

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 Louzishui village in Fangshan is one of the areas hit worst by the July 21 rainstorm

(Beijing) –  Waiting to be refreshed, the parched riverbeds and mountainsides of Beijing's Fangshan District were violently eroded in the sudden downpour of the July 21 rainstorm. In a matter of minutes, water levels in this area went from ankle deep to waist deep.

On that night, most residents didn't receive any flood warning from the city authorities. No evacuation procedure was done.

In the southwestern Fangshan District, known for its mountainous landscapes, the large river basins of the Dashihe and Juma rivers flooded, causing flashfloods and mudslides in several villages. Beijing Municipality recorded 77 deaths, many in Fangshan.

"If we had received some warning of the floods, we could have at least moved some of our inventory to higher ground," said Liu Shui, who owns a supermarket in Louzishui village and suffered nearly 300,000 yuan in losses. "This could have been avoided.

"We didn't receive any warning. No one informed us of a flood risk – only when the roads were completely inundated did we realize the danger of the situation," said Liu Xiuhua, a businessman from Sichuan who owns a stoneworks in the area.

On July 19, the Beijing meteorological department posted a code blue rain alert for the weekend. Hours into the rainstorm on July 21, authorities upgraded the warning level to code orange, the second-most severe weather signal after code red. However, even after the alerts, the Shidu Scenic area in Fangshan continued to accept tourists despite the high risk of mudslides.

"The monitoring system against flash floods and landslides in Fangshan is still very basic," said Gao Jiarong, professor at the Beijing Forestry University Soil Conservation Department. "The local villagers have to keep an eye out for themselves. If there are any signs of danger, they warn other residents by shouting and sounding a gong in the village."

During the rainstorm, most Fangshan residents said they were unaware of any government alerts and the floodwaters hit so fast that the rudimentary warning wasn't enough.

But officials from Fangshan contend that the warning signal change during the rainstorm was sufficient. Fangshan District Chief Qi Hong said that 65,000 residents were able to safely reach higher ground thanks to warnings. "Of course some people were ignorant of the situation, or just passing through and did not react fast enough so they were caught off-guard by the flooding," he added.

"At around 6 p.m. water started to flow in from all directions. It began at ankle height but very soon reached knee height. The water was flowing very fast and it became difficult to stand," recounted a resident from Louzishui village. "Two or three minutes later, the water submerged everything below the waist."

Witnessing the relentless heavy rain, Cheng Huali, the owner of a water amusement park on the Juma River, sent boatmen from her company to patrol the area. "I realized that a flashflood might be on its way." Once Cheng arrived at her home around 7 p.m., local residents rushed to warn her of the imminent flooding. Moments after, Cheng left her home to head for higher ground just as water began splashing through her front door.

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