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Beijing Deluge
Cover Stories Series 2012> Beijing Deluge
UPDATED: July 30, 2012 NO. 31 AUGUST 2, 2012
Dealing With the Deluge

From noon on July 21 until early the following morning, Beijing was hit by the heaviest rains in 61 years, triggering floods and other natural disasters in some districts. Official statistics show the rainfall was the heaviest since the city started keeping records of weather conditions. About 1.9 million people were affected by the storm. The rain had caused 77 deaths as of July 26, and more than 50,000 people had been evacuated. Economic losses had exceeded 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion).

Dealing with the aftermath is a huge challenge for city managers and residents alike. We need to answer some questions raised by the terrible disaster.

The rain revealed a weakness in Beijing' ability to cope with emergencies. Before the severe weather, a special meeting is held to prepare for the rainstorm and form a relief team of 160,000 people: a very big operation. Nonetheless, the downpour led to massive property damage as well as scores of deaths. There is a problem in disaster warnings and implementation of relief efforts. Short messages, the media and the Internet were not fully utilized to give advance warning to the public. As a result, citizens were not prepared to cope with the impending rainstorm.

We need to address questions such as how to help the most vulnerable, like children and elderly people, protect themselves in disastrous weather conditions. We should also consider providing a free toll to drivers on expressways and determine what actions should be taken by public transportation companies and businesses to provide shelter to those stranded by natural disasters.

Beijing residents are used to seeing water accumulate in some streets during the rainy season. These hazardous conditions have not been solved in time, and the latest heavy rain again revealed this problem. As a result, the whole city's drainage system is unable to function in heavy rains. We should learn from the drainage systems in Japan and Europe.

The severe damage from the storm has dealt a heavy blow to Beijing's image as China's capital city and hampered its efforts to develop into an international metropolis. Nevertheless, we are happy to see an improvement in the sense of community among the residents. Particularly, the public's sense of responsibility for others and their interest in public affairs has increased.

In the rainstorm, Beijing netizens organized volunteers on micro-blogs to pick up stranded travelers from the airport and take them to the city for free. Some residents set aside their wariness toward strangers and published their home address online to welcome people to stay overnight at their homes. Some commercial institutions posted notices on the Internet offering free accommodation and food to those stuck in the rain. People from different walks of life clung together during this difficult time. This warms our hearts and makes us proud of Beijing.

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