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Beijing rain toll 37 as infrastructure comes in for criticism

The death toll from Saturday’s rainstorm in Beijing has risen to 37 and initial estimates have put the economic cost at more than $ 1.5 billion.

world Updated: Jul 24, 2012 00:06 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The death toll from Saturday’s rainstorm in Beijing has risen to 37 and initial estimates have put the economic cost at more than $ 1.5 billion.

Authorities said 25 were drowned to death as they got trapped by rising waters as the city received its highest rainfall since 1951; it’s been estimated that the Capital received more than half of its yearly rain in less than 15 hours.

The unusually heavy downpour exposed the city’s inadequate sewage system and some uncharacteristic criticism of the city’s infrastructure, which seemed to have given way under the rain.

"The capital's drainage network is already outdated, although a lot of repair work has been done to maintain it," Global Times quoted Zhang Junfeng, founder of the non-government water resource watchdog Happy Water Journeys as saying.

"The capital's drainage system could be among the most advanced across the country, but it isn't on a par with some developed countries, where the systems are designed according to a much higher standard," said Dai Shenzhi, a professor at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning at Tongji University in Shanghai.

Overhauling the entire network may be unfeasible, as it will take time and an enormous injection of cash.

More urban development increases the risk of flooding, as there is less natural vegetation to absorb rain. It would be much more feasible to allocate areas of wetland to be used as overspills to guard against floods, Dai told the newspaper.

On the positive side for the authorities, the state media provided blanket coverage on how city officials mobilised more than 100,000 people, including soldiers and policemen, to conduct rescues, and praised those selfless people for saving lives. But the damage had been done; more than 80,000 people stranded at Beijing airport on Saturday night as neighbouring hotels quickly filled up to accommodate them.

Beijing’s usually efficient subway system was affected as rain water flooded some of the stations along the network of more than 300 km.

The government allocated a relief fund of 120 million Yuan or $19 million to finance flood control work and repair damaged infrastructure in Beijing, the municipality of Tianjin and Hebei province.