On the outskirts of Beijing, thousands have found themselves suddenly homeless after the city’s worst storm in over 60 years hit this weekend. In some areas a wall of water 17 feet high swept through buildings, engulfed automobiles, and collapsed roads, leaving behind an unrecognizable trail of thick red mud and rubble. The official estimates of over $1.6 billion in damages and 1.9 million people affected have caused many to doubt the government’s ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
The ten-hour downpour was deadly—according to the official announcement, 37 people died by drowning, collapsing houses, electrocution, and a lightning strike. Still, many online bloggers have expressed doubts and anger about the government count, estimating a significantly higher death toll. “So the statistics says 170,000 livestock dead,” wrote one blogger. “I don’t understand: if they can count the number of dead animals, why can’t they count the number of dead people?”
Other bloggers are in disbelief that floods could cause such catastrophic damage in the capital city, which spent tens of billions modernizing infrastructure ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Another blog user wrote, “A rain storm can bring so much damage to Beijing. With the super-fast development of our city, infrastructure like drainage facilities is way behind pace. Zillions was invested to build tall buildings, but many lives were taken away just by the rain. Without a good foundation, the city will collapse.”
The village of Beicheying in Beijing’s Fangshan District was one of the most devastated areas, where a record 18 inches of rain fell during the storm. When ABC News visited Wednesday, four days after the flooding, the neighborhood was still unrecognizable to locals, who use straw brooms to sweep out the water in their homes as bulldozers scoop up pile after pile of street debris. Emergency crews have repurposed an elementary school as a refugee area, where residents lined up for food and water rations amidst lines of tents.
In this hard-hit village, everyone is trying to rationalize the damage. Many attribute it to the fact that there is only one sewer pipe to serve the entire area. One official asserted that the village’s position at the foot of a mountain range predestined the flooding.
While the efforts of the rescue teams have not gone unnoticed, villagers like a factory owner, who gave his name as Mr. Fung, are already concerned about the long-term. Fung, whose factory was destroyed in the flood, worries about falling into bankruptcy without government assistance. “I don’t know whether or not the government cares. So far they haven’t done anything. They lost millions, and we have a really small factory, so I don’t know if anyone is going to help us.”