QINGYUAN, China: This aerial photograph taken on April 22, 2024 shows a flooded island after heavy rains in this city in southern Guangdong province. - AFP
QINGYUAN, China: This aerial photograph taken on April 22, 2024 shows a flooded island after heavy rains in this city in southern Guangdong province. - AFP

Highest-level China rainstorm warning after deadly floods

BEIJING: More than 100,000 people have been evacuated due to heavy rain and fatal floods in southern China, with the government issuing its highest-level rainstorm warning for the affected area on Tuesday. Torrential rains have lashed Guangdong in recent days, swelling rivers and raising fears of severe flooding that state media said could be of the sort only “seen around once a century”. On Tuesday, the megacity of Shenzhen was among the areas experiencing “heavy to very heavy downpours”, the city’s meteorological observatory said, adding the risk of flash floods was “very high”. It later downgraded its weather warning as the storms weakened, but urged residents to remain vigilant against disasters.

Images from Qingyuan — a city in northern Guangdong that is part of the low-lying Pearl River Delta — showed a building almost completely submerged in a flooded park next to a river. Official media reported Sunday that more than 45,000 people had been evacuated from Qingyuan, which straddles the Bei River tributary. State news agency Xinhua said 110,000 residents across Guangdong had been relocated since the downpours started over the weekend. The floods have claimed the lives of four people so far and 10 are missing, according to state media.

Ship sinks

In Foshan, a city in the center of the province, a further four people were missing after a ship struck a bridge in an incident that “may have been... due to the influence of flooding”, Xinhua reported Tuesday, citing local authorities. The vessel, which was carrying nearly 5,000 tons of rolled steel, smacked into a pillar of the Jiujiang Bridge on Monday evening, catapulting several of its 11 crewmembers into the water. Seven people were rescued before the ship sank just before midnight, Xinhua said.

Aerial shots from Guangdong showed brown gashes in the side of a hill — the aftermath of landslides that had occurred behind a town on the banks of a swollen river. Soldiers could be seen operating excavators in an attempt to clear away the muddy debris produced by the downpour. Climate change driven by human-emitted greenhouse gases makes extreme weather events more frequent and intense, and China is the world’s biggest emitter.

Parts of Guangdong have not seen such severe flooding so early in the year since records began in 1954, the state-run China National Radio reported. Yin Zhijie, the chief hydrology forecaster at the Ministry of Water Resources, told the broadcaster that “intensifying climate change” had raised the likelihood of the kind of heavy rains not typically seen until June or July. “In recent years, extreme weather events that overturn our traditional ways of thinking have occurred frequently, and the extremeness (and) abnormality... of floods and droughts have significantly increased,” he was reported as saying.

Guangdong is China’s manufacturing heartland, home to around 127 million people. “Please quickly take precautions and stay away from dangerous areas such as low-lying areas prone to flooding,” authorities in Shenzhen said in issuing Tuesday’s red alert. “Pay attention to heavy rains and resulting disasters such as waterlogging, flash floods, landslides, mudslides, and ground caving in.” Heavy rain is expected to continue in Shenzhen for the next two to three hours, authorities said. 

In recent years China has been hit by severe floods, grinding droughts and record heat. That has meant that authorities are typically very quick to deploy, making casualties much lower than in previous decades. Last September Shenzhen experienced the heaviest rains since records began in 1952, while the nearby semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong saw its heaviest rainfall in nearly 140 years. Asia was the world’s most disaster-hit region from climate and weather hazards in 2023, the United Nations has said, with floods and storms the chief cause of casualties and economic losses. – AFP

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