Beijing unites in rescue efforts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2012, 12:00am


Reports of chaos and tragedy abounded in the wake of Beijing's worst rainstorm in more than six decades, but there were also reports of unprecedented kindness and stories of Good Samaritans coming to others' rescue.

The dire scene was highlighted yesterday when water levels began to recede and rescuers pulled three bodies out of the mud beneath the Huangguantun bridge over the G4 national highway in Fangshan district. The unidentified victims were believed to have been passengers of cars that became stranded the night before, as flood waters rose faster than expected and people abandoned their cars in desperate attempts to reach safe ground.

Others, however, were spared similar fates, some by the kindness of others. As the rain began to intensify on Saturday afternoon, a 60-year-old woman found herself shivering in the rain near the south gate of Ritan Park in Chaoyang district, waiting for a bus that wasn't coming. Unexpectedly, a young driver pulled up beside her.

'I told him I was going towards the Beijing Railway Station, which was in the opposite direction of where he was heading, but he asked me to get in anyway,' the woman said. 'It was one of the best moments of my life.'

Hundreds of others, including many from the Wangjing residential area near the Beijing Capital International Airport, took to their cars in attempts to help some of an estimated 80,000 stranded travellers get home, as taxi and bus services had stopped, according to China Central Television. There were no reports online of people being charged for the rides. It was undoubtedly a dangerous offer, as almost every expressway into and out of Beijing was jammed and covered in standing water.

Several entrepreneurs stepped up in answer to cries for help, offering free shelter, drinks and food to people who were trapped on roads. Zhu Guofan, the owner of Beijing's biggest spa franchise, Liangzi, announced on his microblog account that anyone who could not make it home on Saturday night could walk into any of the company's 21 locations and receive free food, drinks, showers and a place to rest.

The Beijing subway system had planned to conduct an upgrade on Saturday night that would have stopped service to the busy Line 10 as early as 8pm, but authorities opted to postpone the work amid an outpouring of pleas online, China Central Television reported.

Civil service workers in Beijing, notorious for its poor drainage system, removed hundreds of manhole covers to accelerate the drainage from roads. Each hole was watched by a worker to ensure that no cars hit it or pedestrians fell in. In the absence of additional help, some workers stayed at their posts in the rain for more than 10 hours, according to Beijing Television.

Thousands of police officers also spent a sleepless night on patrol, and many simply discarded their useless raincoats to gain additional mobility while directing traffic to higher ground. Their efforts won them applause online from drivers.

One officer from Fangshan district, Li Fanghong, was among the more than 10 people who were killed in the storm. He was electrocuted by a fallen power line while going to the aid of more than 50 farmers in a flooded village.