Rescue Teams Struggle to Reach Isolated Areas in Flood-Hit Hebei
With Beijing still reeling from the heaviest rainfall in the past 140 years in the wake of Typhoon Doksuri, the neighboring Hebei province in northern China is now grappling with the devastating consequences.
Rains and floods brought by the typhoon have wreaked havoc across western parts of the province, leaving nine people dead and at least six more missing. The Hebei Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said Tuesday that the extreme weather has affected more than 540,000 residents in 87 counties.
According to meteorological authorities, the accumulated precipitation in the past three days in the province has surpassed those of extreme rainfall events recorded in 2016 and 1996.
Records show that 10 national weather stations in the region registered their highest daily rainfall ever recorded. Additionally, data from 14 national meteorological stations indicates that the accumulated rainfall in the past three days exceeds the usual summer total for the region.
Lincheng County’s Liangjiazhuang Village alone recorded precipitation of 1,003 millimeters from July 29 to Aug. 1.
Zhuozhou, about 100 kilometers from Beijing and a major logistics hub for the publishing industry, was among the worst-hit regions in Hebei. Torrential rains and subsequent flooding have left several residents trapped in submerged residential compounds and buildings, while more than 130,000 people have been forced to relocate.
A viral video on social media captured a basement collapsing in a residential compound, with water flooding the lower floors. Domestic media reports indicated that hundreds of residents were trapped inside the compound.
And according to a widely circulated spreadsheet created by rescue volunteers, there were more than 1,200 requests to be rescued. Many of those trapped reported facing shortages of water, food, and other essential supplies.
A Beijing resident surnamed Xie told Sixth Tone that his parents and brother were trapped in their house in Matou Town close to Zhuozhou, with water levels already reaching the second floor. As of Wednesday morning, all communication was lost, Xie said, expressing concern over the scarcity of rescue personnel, with whom he had not been able to establish contact.
According to Xie, his stranded family members were not notified of an evacuation before the situation worsened rapidly on Monday afternoon. “Otherwise, I would have immediately gone to pick them up since I live only 50 or 60 kilometers away,” he said.
In Baichigan Town, about 25 kilometers away from Matou, a resident told Sixth Tone that she and her child were safely rescued by a rescue team. However, two elderly family members were still trapped on the second floor of their building. She said: “The rescue team can only save those who have no mobility issues, and we don’t know what to do.”
The complex terrain and telecommunications issues are causing further setbacks to rescue efforts in and around Zhuozhou. Hong Yunyin, the frontline liaison officer of the Shanghai Z-Care Rescue Team, told The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, that Matou Town has been cut off for four days, and the locals hoped a rescue road could be opened soon.
“The terrain in Matou is shaped like a shooting target, with a circle of water connected to a circle of land. Cars can break down when entering areas where the water is deep, and boats may also break down when passing through the land,” said Hong.
The torrential rainfall also left Zhuozhou’s publishing industry in disarray after floodwater inundated an industrial park where warehouses for hundreds of publishers are located. As a result, major book companies, including BooksChina and CNTIME, have suspended deliveries for 10 to 15 days, with experts estimating losses in the billions of yuan.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Zhuozhou Public Security Bureau posted on Weibo that the entire region had experienced water supply disruption, with electricity also affected in some areas. They urgently requested emergency assistance, stating, “Zhuozhou is in great need of boats to help evacuate people. While there are currently enough supplies, we are uncertain how long they will last.”
In a second message posted around 30 minutes later, authorities said rescue work would continue into the night and that they would require more lights. “Additionally, frontline rescuers have reported that we don’t have enough lifeboats,” the post read. The posts have since been deleted.
In response to the disaster, both the central government and local authorities have stepped in. Chinese President Xi Jinping, on Tuesday, ordered all-out efforts to rescue those missing and trapped. “It is crucial to ensure medical treatment for the injured and provide comfort to the families of the deceased,” Xi said, according to Xinhua News.
He also emphasized the need for relevant authorities to strengthen early warning and monitoring systems for floods. And added that authorities should also focus on implementing flood prevention measures during the key period from late July to early August.
On Wednesday, the Hebei Fire and Rescue Force told The Paper that around 200 rescue workers, 20 lifeboats, and other rescue vehicles and equipment from the fire and rescue forces of the cities of Tangshan, Handan, and Langfang were sent overnight to provide support for Zhuozhou.
Meanwhile, in the northern city of Tianjin, authorities have taken precautionary measures by relocating over 35,000 people, and the flood prevention efforts have been raised to the highest level. Given the expected inflow of floodwaters from upstream rivers, all rivers in Tianjin are likely to be impacted, putting significant stress on the city’s flood control measures in the coming days.
As of Wednesday, the weather forecast indicated a decrease in rainfall intensity in Hebei. However, the region is expected to experience muggy conditions due to high humidity and temperatures in the coming days.
Over the next three days, provinces in northeastern China — Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning — face a medium to high risk of heavy rainfall, with the likelihood of more showers or thunderstorms in these regions.
(Header image: A man sits on a rice cooker waiting for rescue in Zhuozhou, Hebei province, August 1, 2023. Liu Jingwen for Sixth Tone)