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Authorities working on early warning system

By Zhao Lei (China Daily)

08:50, September 03, 2012

A motor-repair store employee (left) ferries a woman on his self-made raft across a fl ooded crossroad in Beijing's Fengtai district on Sunday after a heavy rain hit the city. (China Daily)

Meteorological authorities across China have been cooperating with telecommunication companies to send early warnings of meteorological disasters, officials said amid a new round of torrential rains that hit a large part of the country.

The China Meteorological Administration has signed cooperation agreements with China Unicom, one of the country’s biggest telecommunication companies, and China Telecom, another giant in the field, to improve the dissemination of early warnings and enable more people to receive the information, Chen Zhenlin, chief of the department of emergency response, disaster mitigation and public services at the administration, told the Beijing Times on Sunday.

Meteorological authorities in 17 provincial-level regions, including Hebei, Shanxi, Jilin and Jiangsu, can now send text messages to residents when an orange or red warning is issued.

Chinese meteorological authorities use a four-tier color-coded weather warning system, with red being the most severe, followed by orange, yellow and blue.

Meteorological authorities also use micro blogs to release weather information, Chen said, noting the Guangdong Meteorological Bureau’s micro blog has more than 600,000 followers.

Starting on Saturday, the National Meteorological Center shortened the interval between its 24-hour forecast for big cities like the four municipalities, namely Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing, and provincial capitals, according to Xue Feng, a senior researcher at the center.

The center previously released forecasts for those cities every 12 hours, but now releases them every six hours, Xue told China Meteorological News on Sunday.

The service will be promoted to all Chinese cities above prefecture level in the future, Xue added.

The moves came as a new round of heavy rains drenched a large part of China over the weekend.

Heavy showers hit Beijing around 11 am on Saturday and continued through Sunday morning, with an average precipitation of 50 mm. The heaviest rain was observed in the Longquan township of Mentougou district, which received 145.9 mm.

Having learned a bitter lesson from the record storm that hit the capital city on July 21 and killed 79 people, the Beijing government on Saturday activated all emergency response forces. More than 1,500 flood-control workers were kept on duty. Traffic police officers and public utility workers were dispatched to patrol 21 flood-prone places, especially lower sections under overpasses or on expressways.

In addition to normal precautions, flood control and emergency response authorities in Mentougou, one of the areas hit hardest during the July 21 storm, also evacuated more than 2,000 residents from risky areas.

Some of the evacuees have returned home while the others were still at temporary shelters, a worker with the district’s flood-control office who declined to give his name, told China Daily on Sunday afternoon.

He declined to say if there were any casualties.

The emergency response and publicity departments of the district could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

At noon on Saturday, the meteorological authority in Beijing issued a blue warning of heavy rain and sent text messages to residents via telecommunication companies, according to Ding Deping, a senior official of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau.

She said most Beijing residents may have received the message.

However, many residents said they did not receive any text messages notifying them of the incoming rain.

"(The rain) came on the weekend and most people were resting at home, so it didn’t cause any trouble,” said Zhang Chen, a white-collar worker in Beijing. "But if it comes on weekdays and falls more heavily, I am not sure whether tragedies would happen again.

"I appreciate what the government departments have done to protect us, but I am hoping they can do better, like guarantee that everyone in the city can receives the text message.”

Rainstorms wreaked havoc in many places in China over the weekend.

Heavy rains since Thursday have caused floods across Southwest China’s Sichuan province. As of late Sunday, downpours had affected more than 656,600 people and destroyed 8,500 houses. Local authorities have transferred 62,600 people to safe places.

Downpours also flattened some houses in the Chang’an district in Xi’an, capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi province, on Saturday, threatening the safety of around 200 other houses. The local government also reported a landslide in the Xinlian village and evacuated residents.

The National Meteorological Center forecast said heavy rains would hit southern parts of Shandong province, northern parts of Jiangsu province, southern parts of Anhui province, and most parts of Jiangxi province from Sunday night to Monday night.

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