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Beijing storm highlights risks for China's cities


08:14, July 24, 2012

THE fierce rainstorm that claimed 37 lives over the weekend in Beijing has raised questions about the capital's ability to cope with flooding.

Many roads in the city were submerged under waist-deep water for hours on Saturday during the downpour, the heaviest the city has seen in 60 years.

The municipal government said as of Sunday night, 25 people had drowned, six killed in house cave-ins, five were electrocuted and one was killed by lightning.

The rain and flooding also caused blackouts and traffic paralysis. As of yesterday, the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau expressway had still not reopened as part of it remained submerged.

The disaster affected 1.9 million people and caused nearly 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion) of damage, while the exact economic loss is still being verified by local governmental departments, according to Beijing flood control and drought relief headquarters.

Urban flooding has been a chronic problem in China. This summer, rainstorms and flooding have wreaked havoc in many cities, including Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen.

Experts believe the floods are largely the result of urbanization, with vast networks of roads and the elimination of greenbelts decreasing some cities' ability to cope with heavy rain.

Wang Hao, of the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, said that more than 80 percent of Beijing's roads were covered in impermeable materials such as concrete and asphalt, which obstructed the infiltration of rainwater.

However, an investigation led by Li Haiyan, a professor at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, said that about half of the drainage networks in Beijing were filled with sediment as thick as 10 to 50 percent of the pipes' diameter.

Sheng Minzhi, an engineer at the Hangzhou Planning Bureau, said the mass construction of tall buildings and underground parking lots in some cities had also slowed the rate at which the ground can absorb rainwater.

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