In the inland Chinese city of Yichang, the murky water ran waist-high, stranding people in their cars and turning streets into canals. Near the metropolis of Chongqing, angry torrents of water swept away country roads. The tourist town of Yangshuo experienced a cloudburst that an official called a once-in-two-centuries event.
Weeks of abnormally intense rains have wrought destruction across southern China, leaving at least 106 people dead or missing and affecting 15 million residents in the worst flooding that parts of the region have seen in decades.
One of the hardest-hit provinces has been Hubei, whose capital, Wuhan, also had the first emergence of the coronavirus last year. Late last month, rescuers smashed car windows to free passengers trapped by floodwater in Yichang, a city in Hubei down the Yangtze River from the Three Gorges Dam, one of the world’s largest.
Hubei has had more coronavirus cases than any other part of China. And people there said the last thing they needed was another devastating jolt to their lives, their health and their livelihoods.
“Another problem has arisen before the last one subsided,” Deng Jin, 25, a recent college graduate from the city of Enshi, lamented recently on the social platform Weibo. “Hubei in 2020 is both surreal and difficult.”
Heavy rains this time of year often swell China’s rivers and cause its reservoirs to overflow. This year, however, the battle against the coronavirus pandemic strained flood preparations, People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, warned in April.
The epidemic, combined with the extreme rain, has made dealing with this year’s flooding a “very formidable” task, China’s postal agency wrote in a recent memo urging the authorities to step up their response to the floods, People’s Daily reported this week.
After 31 consecutive days of official alerts about torrential rain, the inclement weather shows little sign of letting up. On Friday, the National Meteorological Center forecast another round of downpours in China’s southwest beginning on Saturday. Experts are warning of potential landslides and bursts at reservoirs and dams.
In China, most small reservoirs were built in the 1960s and ’70s and did not follow high construction standards, said Brandon Meng, a hydraulic engineer in the southern city of Shenzhen.
“Once there is extreme weather,” he said, “it’s very easy for them to be in danger.”
As the rains were becoming intense last month, some commentators in China noted how little attention they were receiving, both in Chinese news outlets and on social media. Surely, they said, the confluence of a great plague and great floods should merit wider interest.
Perhaps people had grown numb to hardship. Or perhaps China’s government and its censors did not want to draw more attention to people’s suffering.
Either way, videos and firsthand accounts of the flooding have since gained wider notice.
In Yangshuo, a popular travel destination known for its stunning mountain vistas, an official told the newsmagazine Southern Weekly that the area had experienced a once-in-two-centuries burst of heavy rain on June 7. More than 1,000 hotels and guesthouses and 5,000 shops were damaged, the authorities told Southern Weekly.
Qin Hui, a retired history professor, was vacationing in Yangshuo when the rain started coming down in buckets last month. He and his travel partners tried to evacuate but decided that it was too dangerous. They were eating breakfast the next morning when they caught a disturbing sight.
“The swimming pool outside the window suddenly went from clear to muddy,” Mr. Qin recounted in an online essay. “It turned out to be floodwater coming in from the tube at the bottom of the pool. Soon after, the murky water flooded out of the pool, quickly covered the yard and then flowed up the stairs.”
They were trapped in their hotel for two nights until a volunteer team rescued them.
In Chongqing, the city authorities said last month that flooding along the local section of the Qijiang River, upstream from the Yangtze, was the worst since monitoring began in 1940. About 40,000 residents were evacuated, according to official news outlets.
Chongqing is in a mountainous part of China, and many structures are built directly into hillsides. A video from one district showed brown water gushing out of an upper window of a residential building, like an artificial waterfall.
Wang Yiwei contributed research.