Fierce rain and flooding pummeled Beijing on Monday, killing at least two people as the downpour triggered landslides and swept away cars on the city’s outskirts after the authorities issued a red alert for what they warned was the heaviest deluge in years.
The intense rain since the weekend prompted Beijing to close tourist attractions like the ancient Forbidden City. But the worst effects have been felt in the city’s outer districts, where downpours overwhelmed riverbeds that usually stay dry for much of the year.
By Monday afternoon, the Beijing government confirmed that two bodies had been found in a river bed in Mentougou, an outer district in western Beijing, apparently fatalities from the flooding after heavy rains.
Earlier, video shared by local news outlets showed cars in Mentougou being swept down a swollen river. Later on Monday, Chinese television showed footage of residents in the district walking through muddy streets strewn with cars that had been washed away. About 5,000 residents in Mentougou were evacuated from their homes to keep them out of danger, the Beijing government said.
Emergency services in the Chinese capital and in neighboring provinces of northern China warned residents against the continued dangers, with heavy rain predicted to last until Tuesday. Chinese television news showed a rescuer in Hebei Province, next to Beijing, suspended from cables and plucking a man from his car that was swept away.
The rains “are marked by their long duration, large accumulative rainfall and high dangers of disaster,” Fang Chong, a senior forecaster with China’s Central Meteorological Observatory told Xinhua, the country’s state-run news agency. The heavy rains have been caused by a mass of moist air that was pushed northward by a recent typhoon, Chinese meteorologists have said.
Between Saturday evening and Monday at 1 p.m., Beijing recorded an average of about 7 inches of rain. In the city’s Mentougou District, the average was over 12 inches, according to data from Beijing’s weather service, and Fangshan, another district on the capital’s outskirts, recorded even more. Beijing issued a “red alert” warning, telling residents in the worst hit districts to stay indoors unless essential.
The Chinese capital’s high vigilance over the rains appears to partly reflect memories of flash floods in 2012, when officials seemed ill-prepared. The government ultimately announced a count of 79 dead, mostly from drownings in the southern parts of the city where drainage was poor, but some in the city believed the real number killed was even higher.
Beijing has a population of 22 million, and the extra resources that come from serving as the nation’s capital. But the expansion of the city has shrunk natural drainage areas, sending overflow onto roads and into neighborhoods. In Mentougou, emergency workers rushed on Sunday to clear away a wall of polystyrene debris and other trash that had been washed down a river by the floods, creating a dangerous blockage near a bridge.