Floods brought by Typhoon Rumbia devastate China’s biggest supplier of vegetables

Angry residents of Shouguang – where 13 people died and at least three are missing – say release of water from reservoirs may have added to the disaster

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 August, 2018, 10:50pm

Torrential rain and widespread flooding brought by Typhoon Rumbia has left 13 people dead and at least three missing this week in the city of Shouguang, in eastern China, and angry residents say the authorities may have added to the devastation.

Floods have caused 9.2 billion yuan (US$1.34 billion) in economic losses in the city, with nearly 10,000 houses collapsed and 200,000 greenhouses damaged, the local government said on Thursday evening.

The city in Shandong province is known as China’s biggest producer of vegetables – some 4.5 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables are grown there every year. It is also home to the country’s biggest vegetable wholesale market.

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While the authorities described the flooding as a natural disaster, residents have accused the local government of contributing to the problem by allowing water to be simultaneously released from three reservoirs in the region.

But Zhou Shouzong, director of the Weifang Flood Control and Drought Relief Command Office, defended the move, saying it had been necessary to release the water downstream of the Mi River near Shouguang, news website Thepaper.cn reported on Friday. Shouguang is under the administration of Weifang, a prefecture-level city.

“If we hadn’t discharged the water, it would have posed a serious threat to the safety of the reservoirs, and would even have increased the possibility of the dams collapsing,” he said. “[If that happened] it would have threatened the lives of millions of residents living in the downstream areas of the river.”

Heavy rain – far more than had been forecast – was the main reason the flooding had been so severe, according to the local government.

Typhoon Rumbia battered eastern, northeastern and central China over the weekend, affecting nearly 9.5 million people and leaving at least 22 people dead and seven missing, the National Commission for Disaster Reduction said on Monday.

In the Weifang area, including Shouguang, the typhoon brought 174.7mm of rain – 3.2 times the level forecast by the weather bureau. Upstream of the Mi River, some 241.6mm of rain has fallen since then – 3.9 times the amount forecast, the Weifang weather bureau said.

Of the 13 people killed in Shouguang, nine drowned while trying to drive through the floodwaters. The missing include two auxiliary police officers who were involved in the search and rescue operation.

The floods have also taken a toll on the many vegetable growers in the city, and it is already having an impact on prices. In Beijing, about 70 per cent of the vegetables sold at markets come from Shouguang. One vegetable seller at a market in Xicheng district said prices had surged by 30 to 40 per cent this week because of the disaster in Shouguang, state-owned China News Service reported.

Closer to home in Qingdao, Shandong, vegetable prices have doubled and more this week, the report said. It gave the example of coriander, which is commonly used in Chinese cooking, and usually costs an average 9.9 yuan per 500 grams – it is currently fetching 26.5 yuan for a half kilo.

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For residents of Shouguang, the clean-up is just beginning. By Thursday the floodwaters had not completely receded in most parts of the city. One resident, surnamed Zhu, told Pear Video that her home had been inundated and she had lost half of her furniture and belongings.

“It was so sad seeing my furniture and home appliances floating in the water,” said Zhu, in her 50s. “My home is not like a home any more.”