China ramps up efforts against floods as heavy rains kill at least 15
Published: Jul 05, 2023 05:24 PM

 Rescuers use an inflatable boat to evacuate residents stranded by floodwaters in Wanzhou district of Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality on July 4, 2023. Photo: from Xinhua

Rescuers use an inflatable boat to evacuate residents stranded by floodwaters in Wanzhou district of Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality on July 4, 2023. Photo: from Xinhua

China is ramping up efforts to combat flooding and geological disasters, sending special working groups to guide the rescue and prevention work and allocating funds to help the affected people rebuild their homes, after torrential rains left 15 people dead and four missing in Wanzhou district of Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.

After launching a level-IV emergency response on Tuesday afternoon and then having an emergency meeting with Chongqing authorities in the evening, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters sent a working group to guide the flood prevention and rescue mission in Wanzhou, where the heavy rains resulted in flooding and geological disasters.

The Headquarters requested the rescuers to ensure the safe rescue, prevent secondary disasters, and provide basic living support for the stranded people while closely monitoring the rainfall in the surrounding districts in the coming 24 hours.

According to the emergency department in Wanzhou, 24 towns and sub-districts were hit by heavy rains from Monday to Tuesday with the heaviest rainfall reaching 261.2 millimeters. The local government has sent more than 2,500 people for the emergency rescue and evacuation. As of 10 am on Wednesday, some 37,226 people from 36 towns and sub-districts have been stranded and 11,578 of them have been evacuated. 

Among the nearly 2,000-hectare affected areas of crops, about 570 hectares of crops have been completely destroyed. So far, 50 houses have collapsed and 112 damaged. The direct economic losses to the whole of Wanzhou reached nearly 228 million yuan ($31 million).

"Heavy rain poured down from about 2 am to 6 am on Tuesday when most local residents were sleeping, leading to a sudden surge in river water. Then the local government immediately sent rescuers to wake us up and transfer people living in the lower places to higher places," a Wanzhou resident surnamed Liu told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Liu said the flood was gradually fading after the rain stopped on Tuesday afternoon and people were clearing the mud at their communities, but worries remained about the landslides that hit Wanzhou almost every year in the severe weather conditions.

As of Wednesday morning, the water levels of the 11 rivers across Chongqing, which had swelled due to the rain, have all retreated below the alert level. As heavy rainfalls are predicted to continue in Chongqing and Northeast China's Liaoning in the next three days, the Ministry of Natural Resources on Wednesday afternoon launched an emergency response to geological hazard in the two regions.

Outside of Chongqing, heavy downpours over the past weeks have also displaced thousands, destroyed bridges and washed away cars and homes in Northwest China's Shaanxi and Southwest China's Sichuan provinces, as well as Central China's Henan and Hunan provinces.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has demanded that authorities at all levels must give top priority to ensuring people's safety and property, and strive to minimize various losses in the work regarding flood prevention and disaster relief. Xi required the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters and the ministries of emergency management and water resources to enhance coordination, strengthen consultation and research, and improve early warnings and forecasts.

The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Emergency Management on Wednesday urgently allocated a total of 320 million yuan in central natural disaster relief funds to support 16 provincial regions, including Chongqing and Sichuan, against floods and geological disasters. The money will be used for emergency rescue and assistance to affected populations, relocation of affected individuals, secondary disaster risk assessment and the restoration of damaged houses.

China's weather monitoring authority said the country may face more extreme weather events in July and August, including heavy rainfall, flooding and heat waves.

It is anticipated that in July, China's seven major river basins will enter the main flood season, with the Yangtze River, Huai River, Taihu Lake, and Songliao River basins facing the risk of floods and waterlogging.

The early and frequent occurrence of extreme weather events in China is concerning, and there is scientific consensus that global climate change increases the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather events, Sun Shao, a senior researcher at Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, told the Global Times.

The influence of the East Asian summer monsoon and regional climate patterns are significant, and the broader context of global climate change may play a role as well, said Sun, noting that analyzing long-term climate data and conducting comprehensive studies are necessary to understand the specific influence of climate change on these recent extreme weather events in China. 

The World Meteorological Organization declared on Tuesday that El Niño conditions have developed for the first time in seven years in the tropical Pacific region, which could lead to a surge in global temperatures and disruptive weather and climate patterns.