7 killed, 8 injured in flash floods in SW China's 'new Instagram-worthy' valley
Published: Aug 14, 2022 04:30 PM Updated: Aug 14, 2022 04:27 PM
A father holding his son standing in the flood in Longcaogou, Southwest China's Sichuan Province. Source: Weibo
A father holding his son standing in the flood in Longcaogou, Southwest China's Sichuan Province on August 14. Source: Weibo

Seven people were killed and eight others slightly injured in flash floods on Saturday in Longcaogou of Pengzhou, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, local authorities announced on Sunday, noting that some tourists who were camping in the dried-up river were trapped in the flood after failing to evacuate in time.

The Sichuan provincial government issued an urgent notice on Saturday evening, requiring local authorities across the province to urgently inspect scenic spots prone to natural disasters, especially water-wading areas, and arrange administrators to keep an eye on the key places and dissuade tourists from unsafe behavior in a timely manner.

According to the video shot by witnesses at the scene on Saturday, several tourists were camping in tents in the dried-up river, including the elderly and children. The flash flood washed away some tourists and tents in just a few seconds, prompting people at the scene to cry out in shock.

More than 500 rescuers from Pengzhou Emergency Management Bureau, Public Security Bureau, the fire brigade and other departments are conducting a search of valleys and rivers to find lost tourists over the weekend, said local authorities, adding that at least 15 professional rescue teams, including mountain rescue and diving rescue teams, are taking part in the rescue work. The rescue work at the scene is drawing to a close.

A staff member of the government of Longmenshan township, which Longcaogou belongs to, told the Global Times on Sunday that the local government is still actively coordinating rescue work at the scene, and will introduce stricter measures to strengthen the management of places like Longgcaogou after the rescue work is completed.

The local emergency management bureau said in a notice late Saturday that it had organized local officials and volunteers to try and persuade tourists camping along the river to leave after receiving forecasts of short-term heavy rainfall at 2:37 pm. Video taken by witnesses shows a manager shouting at tourists: "Please, everyone, get on shore."

Less than an hour later at 3:30 pm, a flash flood in Longcaogou quickly filled the originally dried-up river, and some tourists who were camping in the area were trapped in the waters after failing to evacuate in time.

Although Longcaogou was hit by floods in 2015 and 2017, which caused economic losses of more than 1.5 million yuan ($222,000), it has not deterred tourists from visiting the area.

Local merchants said that since it was a weekend, there may have been thousands of people visiting Longcaogou when the incident occurred. "It was so crowded that I couldn't even find a place to park," a man surnamed Xu, who was visiting Longcaogou from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, told Jimu News on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Longcaogou has been widely recommended on social media platforms as a "new Instagram-worthy location" and a "niche holiday resort." Many bloggers posted pictures of the valley's beautiful scenery and their trips on the lifestyle-sharing platforms Little Red Book and Dazhong Dianping and some short video platforms including Douyin, with captions recommending that people go there.

However, local residents told media that it is a spillway river and not a formal scenic spot, and there are warning signs beside the river saying "No entry". 

Some villagers told the China News Weekly that going to the mountains during the rainy season is extremely risky, and "no one can predict when flash floods will suddenly occur." 

Early in 2021, local authorities issued several warnings of the dangers of visiting Longcaogou, which had stated that it is located in an area prone to landslides, mountain floods and other natural disasters, posing a great threat to the personal safety of tourists.

Barbed wire has been placed around Loncaogou to keep tourists out, and local authorities have placed banners and warning signs in prominent positions, but that hasn't stopped the valley from becoming a popular spot for taking social media photos, with many celebrities even teaching their fans how to climb over the fence to enter the danger zone.

Several internet users posted on Sunday that they had reported the bloggers for traveling in undeveloped and risky areas and sending misleading travel notes and guides, but many of the complaints were ignored by the platforms.

So far, the related recommendations have been taken down from several platforms while some are still up.

Bloggers posting videos and photos recommending the "internet-famous site" is one of the main reasons why people ignore the government's repeated safety warnings, a Beijing-based law expert told the Global Times on Sunday.

The social media platforms should be responsible for failing to supervise and review the content as the local government has issued travel warnings through its official accounts, the expert added.

Observers said local authorities should strengthen the management of tourist attractions and eliminate potential safety risks while the social media platforms must strengthen supervision of the quality of content, and not blindly allow content in order to attract users.

The incident in Longcaogou, where influencers' trips to dangerous spots prompted copycats, is not an isolated case. A number of safety incidents at "wild" tourist attractions in China have been found in recent years.

For example, on the U-shaped highway 315 in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, tourists gathered in the middle of the road to pose for photos, sometimes even forcing passing vehicles and heavy trucks to stop. Preventing violations still proved difficult despite traffic police making repeated patrols and putting up warning signs.