In the eye of Beijing’s deadly storm

Photo by our Observer Natalie Litofsky.
 
Over the weekend, China’s capital Beijing experienced the heaviest rainfall it has seen in 60 years. The storm lasted nearly 16 hours, submerging several parts of the city in up to a metre (three feet) of water.
 
Aerial view of flooding in Beijing. Video posted on YouTube by bardame.
 
At least 37 people were killed during the storm and subsequent flooding, and tens of thousands others stranded at the capital’s main airport after 500 flights were cancelled on Saturday, July 21 because of the severe weather. All said and done, the deluge has reportedly caused 10 billion yuan-worth of damage in Beijing.
 
Driving through Beijing's flooded streets. Video posted on YouTube by Chubby Chubbz.
 
But some in the capital have argued that the damage needn’t have been so extensive. Pointing to the city’s aging drains, critics have said that flooding could have been manageable if the city had an adequate drainage system.
 
Although the weather in Beijing has since more or less cleared, the areas hardest hit by the weekend’s storm are still struggling to recover. Parts of the city’s Beijing-Guangdong highway, which runs along the south of the capital, were still covered with water on Monday, while some homes in Qinglonghu, a village about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Beijing’s centre, remained flooded.
 
 
Some took advantage of Beijing's flooded streets to take an urban swim. Video posted on YouTube by BeijingCream.
Contributors

“The street I live on ended up with about three feet of water on it, maybe more”

Natalie Litofsky is an American who lives in central Beijing. A web editor for the online magazine City Weekend, Litofsky was at her home when the storm began.
 
We’ve had intense storms in Beijing in the past, but they only lasted for maybe an hour or so. This was a storm that lasted almost 10 hours [in central Beijing]. I was at home when it started on Saturday afternoon and the rain didn’t let up enough for me to go outside until 11pm. It was fearsome.
 
 
Bystanders help to push a stalled car down a flooded street in Beijing. Video posted on YouTube by our Observer Natalie Litofsky.
 
The flooding got so bad because of the lack of drainage in the capital. The street I live on ended up with about three feet of water on it, maybe more. The city is completely flat and it’s not built to handle that amount of water. A lot of subway stations, underpasses and underground tunnels end up flooding because there’s no where else for the water to go. My street floods even during light storms – the water usually gets to be about a foot and a half deep during a regular rainstorm.
 
I don’t think the city reacted as poorly as some people say. I was alerted 24 hours in advance that there was going to be a severe storm passing through, and was able to prepare. Because my street floods easily, there were emergency vehicles set up outside to pump water even before the rain started – which is probably why we only had about three feet of water on it instead of more.
 
However, it’ such a huge city, you can’t close off all the streets because you think they might flood. It would cause chaos, and aside from that, they don’t have the manpower to do so.
 
The skies cleared up on Sunday; it was some of the clearest weather we’ve had in months. When I woke up, almost all the water that had accumulated the day before had gone. Walking around the city centre, it was almost like nothing had happened. In the suburbs, however, where the storm hit the hardest, they’re still trying to clear up all the damage.

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