Chinese cities brace for floods as heat scorches inland regions

By Ryan Woo and Liz Lee

July 22, 20232:28 AM GMT+8

Updated 16 hours ago


  • Torrential rain lashes cities including Beijing and Shanghai
  • Poyang Lake at lowest level for this time of year since 1951.
  • Authorities act on flood prevention and drought control

BEIJING, July 21 (Reuters) – Several Chinese cities including Shanghai and Beijing braced for flooding on Friday while inland regions baked in heat threatening to shrink the country’s biggest freshwater lake.

Wild weather swings have gripped China since April, causing deaths, damaging infrastructure, wilting crops, and raising fears over its ability to cope with climate change.

Historically, China enters its peak rainy season in late July, but storms have become more intense and unpredictable, exposing heavily built-up megacities with poor drainage.

Heavy rain lashed financial hub Shanghai on Friday, with precipitation in downtown logging 125.4 mm (4.9 inches) within an hour, according to the local weather authority.

Roads in parts of Shanghai became rivers, with cars half-submerged and pedestrians struggling through knee-deep water, videos circulating on China’s social media showed.

In the capital Beijing, authorities deployed more than 2,600 people to drain dozens of pumping stations in advance and clear thousands of water drainage outlets along roads. Several bus routes plying the suburbs and mountainous areas were halted.

Authorities in the neighbouring city of Tianjin also ramped up flood control efforts in the Hai basin, a major northern drainage system.


By contrast, scant rainfall in Jiangxi province has resulted in Poyang Lake, the country’s largest body of fresh water, ebbing to its lowest level for this time of the year since records began in 1951.

Poyang Lake, known as the kidneys of China due to the role it plays in regulating the flow of the Yangtze river, normally swells in summer due to rain and retreats in winter.

A car is seen partially submerged in floodwaters following heavy rainfall in Shanghai, China July 21, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song
A view shows a flooded area in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, China, in this still image taken from a video released on July 20, 2023, obtained by REUTERS.
People walk past a neighbourhood, amid a yellow alert for heatwave, on a street in Beijing, China July 20, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
Men eat slices of watermelon, amid a yellow alert for heatwave, in Beijing, China July 20, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Last year, it also unexpectedly shrank due to drought.

The Central Meteorological Observatory issued warnings for heavy rain in eight provinces and autonomous regions until Saturday evening, according to state media.

At a cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Li Qiang, officials said all authorities should prioritise lives and pay attention to flood prevention and drought control, state radio reported.

Meanwhile, temperatures of 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) and above continued to menace other parts of China.

Northwestern Xinjiang, where temperatures hit a record high 52.2C on Sunday, remained blanketed in worse-than-usual heat while in neighbouring Gansu province some areas suffered intense heat while others warned of floods and landslides.

Officials have warned repeatedly that China is vulnerable to the impact of climate change due to its large population and unevenly distributed water supplies.

In Jiangsu province, a waterfall tumbled into a high-speed railway station in the rain-drenched city of Wuxi, according to social media clips.

As many as 150 cities get waterlogged each summer, despite efforts to improve drainage.

In July 2021, extreme rain in the city of Zhengzhou, in Henan province, killed nearly 400 people, including 14 who drowned in a submerged subway line. More rain had fallen over three days than what the city normally gets in a year.

Heavy rainfall of up to 130 mm (5.12 inches) is expected in parts of Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin until Saturday morning, the national weather bureau warned.

On Friday morning, part of an ancient city wall in Chongqing in southwestern China collapsed after hourly rainfall of up to 100.3 mm over the past day.

Reporting by Ryan Woo, Liz Lee in Beijing, and additional reporting by Bernard Orr and Ella Cao; Editing by Miral Fahmy, Christian Schmollinger and Sharon Singleton


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