• Mayuri Chaudhuri

Devastating Floods in China and Europe: Things to Learn and Precautions to Follow

As if Coronavirus had not dreaded the world enough, deadly floods came into play in different regions, predominantly in Europe and China.


Local Inhabitants evacuate flooded village in Southern Poland.
Local inhabitants evacuate flooded village in Southern Poland. (Via: archive.boston.com)

Heavy rains have swept away farmlands, cities, and villages. Modern disaster management is overwhelmed with sudden outbreaks.


As one report quotes,

"Rigorous climate change is capable of sparking floods even in Kenya’s desert lakes"

According to UN Environment Programme’s sophisticated statistical studies over resources modeling quotes that human settlements around any water body could be inundated by floods periodically due to warmer climates.


But how did it sweep away such advanced nations of the world?



In this article, we will talk about:


Catastrophic Chinese Floods

- Blast from the Past?

- Flooding in Different Regions

- Zhengzhou

- Xinxiang

- Relief and Aid

Extensive European Floods

- The Affected Regions

- Belgium

- Germany

- Rescue and Relief

Flood Safety - Before and After


Catastrophic Chinese Floods


Also known as Henan Floods, the disaster struck the province on July 17 this year, and still moving rigorously through the nation. 201.9 millimeters of rain took people and disaster management systems by surprise. Records convey that a years worth of rainfall was falling torrentially for three whole days in Zhengzhou. It swept away reservoirs and banks of rivers pushing 20,000 people to shelters.

Photo taken by NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite shows storm moving inland in the northwest.
Photo taken by NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite shows storm moving inland in the northwest. (Via: earthobservatory.nasa.gov)

Continental atmospheric pressure was greater than the surface in the Sea of Japan and inland northwest China, which aided in the continuity of the rains. Mesoscale convections (rotational currents) around the eyewall of the cyclone producing tall rains and strongest thunderstorms are racing towards Zhengzhou. The high-pressure areas with converging trade winds and westerlies are returning a large amount of water vapor to the land, causing upliftment of the Taihang mountains.


Blast from the Past?


June 2020 was not so different from the current situation in China. Severe floods had washed away the southern niche of the country, including the Yangtze basin and its tributaries. Estimated 21 large-scale floods had been set to record in history until the recent scenario.


The disaster displaced 744,000 people, leaving 219 dead and several missing. 54,000 houses collapsed, displacing people from their shelters. 433 rivers were overflowing, with 33 of them swelling to their highest levels.

Aerial view of Kwanyin Temple amidst the flooded Yangtze River, July 24, 2020.
Aerial view of Kwanyin Temple amidst the flooded Yangtze River, July 24, 2020. (Via: theatlantic.com)

The natural causes were high levels of vaporizing in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Although the government had implemented flood mitigation through planting trees, the increased need for foodgrains led to urbanizing more wetlands in the Yangtze basin. Due to this, the rivers shrank and paved the way for water to gush through the plains. The most affected regions include Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hubei, and Chongqing.


The Three Gorges Dam with 1,000,000-square-kilometre catchment area started to release floodwaters causing excessive flooding in Yichang, a city located lower to the dam. Critics retaliated back by complaining about the company not initiating the dam’s functions, which it was meant for, rather causing destruction.


Rescue workers evacuating victims from flooding in Chongqing, July 28, 2020.
Rescue workers evacuating victims from flooding in Chongqing, July 28, 2020. (Via: theatlantic.com)

Flooding in Different Regions


This tropical cyclone had earlier dreaded the nations of Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan before entering China on the 25th of July. Henan was majorly affected with partial destruction in Hebei, Shanxi, and Hubei. These floods are likely to have a long-term effect on weather conditions in the area.


Zhengzhou


16th of July was the onset of abnormal torrential rain. The rainfall hit the annual average on the 20th. Videos of water breaching subways started coming out. The video posted by BBC news displayed subways being submerged in water and people hanging onto the rails for survival, a woman and man being swept off their feet due to the gushing waters, and children being carried out in boxes to safety.

People struggling through the streets clogged with floodwater in Zhengzhou.
People struggling through the streets clogged with floodwater in Zhengzhou. (Via: bbc.com)

Dams and Reservoirs reached the breaching warnings. Soldiers were mobilized to divert the rainwater. The Zhengzhou Metrological Observatory, Drought Relief, and Flood Control issued red warning signals as roads in the North got blocked with several trucks.


Xinxiang


The worst was the rural district of Muye district alongside the Wei river. These village areas were cut off from the town supplies for emergency help.


Relief and Aid


Most criticisms were directed towards the recent real-time flood prevention system set up by Aerospace Shenzhou Smart System Technology Co last year. The system with its intelligence sensors was meant to notify danger and failed in issuing the same.


Life and casualty insurance companies have started emergency compensating services and payment checkouts. Agricultural Development Bank of China is planning to issue a contingency loan of 1.1 billion yuan. Leading companies like tech giants, ByteDance, Tencent holdings, and Jack Ma’s foundation came forward with hearty donations.


Here are some of the photographs that might give a deeper insight:

People paying their respects to the entrance of the subway station in Zhengzhou.
People paying their respects to the entrance of the subway station in Zhengzhou. (Via: scmp.com)

Cars and vehicles tossed over like mere toys under the gulf of floodwater.
Cars and vehicles tossed over like mere toys under the gulf of floodwater. (Via: bbc.com)

Staff members trying to unclog the drains in midst of heavy pouring in Wuzhi County, central China's Henan Province on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
Staff members trying to unclog the drains in midst of heavy pouring in Wuzhi County, central China's Henan Province on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Via: Global Times)

Extensive European Floods


Four days before the flood washed away, weather forecasters had predicted enormous rain over Europe, but were not accounted seriously. 13th July was met with severe rains of 15 cms washing away settlements and triggering landslides. The calamity engulfed Central Europe comprising Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, etc. The death toll took to a number over 200, registering as the deadliest flood since 1985.

The worst-hit German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
The worst-hit German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. (Via: Landesregierung Rheinland-Pfalz)

Scientists had predicted such consequences with continual heat waves, droughts, and floods. Forest burning and vehicle emissions have created “heat domes” in Canada and North America in the last 150 years. Majorly small rivers and tributaries got overwhelmed by such pouring, and local authorities were not aware of the impending danger.


Many experts blame it on the urban settlement structure that placed concrete too close to the heart of industrialized regions. The soil was unable to retain water causing erosion.


When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the flood-stricken town of Adenau, she described it as,

“The German language can barely describe the devastation.”

Some of the worst-hit areas saw as much as two months' worth of rain in one day. A storm complex moved from France and stood over Germany for two days.


Jean Jouzel, a climatologist informed,

"Masses of air loaded with water had been blocked at high altitudes by cold temperatures, which made them stagnate for four days over the region."

Areas affected shown by Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC).
Areas affected shown by Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC). (Via: wikipedia.org)

Ernst Rauch, the chief climate and geoscientist for Munich Re says relating to what he had warned earlier,

"There are clear indications that part of the growing damage cannot be explained solely by socio-economic factors but is due to climate change."

The Affected Regions


Many experts and news channel personalities quote that people were warned about extreme rainfall rather than an oncoming disaster. The fragmented authority failed to level the warnings. Hundreds of people are going unaccounted for.

Belgium


On July 15th, evacuation plans were initiated to move 200,000 people to safety as the Meuse river was seen to endanger lives and overwhelm dams. Due to excessive flooding, home fuel tanks broke and emptied into the water making it difficult to have access to even drinkable water.


Wreckage flowing through the course of the river Verviers, Belgium, July 16, 2021.
Wreckage flowing through the course of the river Verviers, Belgium, July 16, 2021. (Via: reuters.com)

The death toll rose to 20 on July 16. The town of Verviers was most affected, with 10,000 of its residents displaced. Moving trains derailed as tracks got swept away, and agriculture was destroyed by soil erosion.


Germany


More than a thousand people have gone missing with the onset of dreading rainfall as of the 16th of July. Severe damage was met by the districts of Ahrweiler and Rhineland-Palatinate, where the river Ahr rose, demolishing buildings and accounting for 110 deaths.


Deutsche Bahn reported that over 600 km of train tracks were damaged in North Rhine-Westphalia. Hospitals were evacuated with sick and dying patients with 200 people dying outside instantly in flash flooding. In Blessem, floodwater made its way into the quarry causing huge landslides.


Aerial photograph of flooding in Germany.
Aerial photograph of flooding in Germany. (Via: bbc.com)

Rescue and Relief


After the water receded the biggest hurdle were the lying utilitarian materials like refrigerators, cables, barricades, washing machines, couches, etc., on streets. Volunteers and authorities have been able to clear out most of it, making the localities more recognizable. For some of the survivors, reinstallation is helping them psychologically to come to terms with the disaster.


People owning emergency generators have been loaning the same to their neighbors for extending a helping hand. Shovels, submersible pumps, and drying equipment are necessary during such times, and companies have cooperated in borrowing the materials free of charge. Giving to EU Civil Protection Mechanism, immediate flood rescue teams and helicopters have been sent off to affected areas.


Neighbors helping victims to clear the debris in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.
Neighbors helping victims to clear the debris in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. (Via dw.com)

The before and after pictures of the cleanup operation.
The before and after pictures of the cleanup operation. (Via: dw.com)

A destroyed locality in Germany.
A destroyed locality in Germany. (Via: reuters.com)

Flood Safety - Before and After


These modern floods are standing to one proven fact that technology and advancement are yet to be able to sustain such natural calamities.


Maintaining some cautious steps before, after, and during such calamities can evade some of the destruction :


  • Always be aware of the warnings as they are issued in the strict public interest

  • Try and search for shelter immediately after you are informed about floods

  • Avoid moving in and across fast-flowing floodwater

  • Store enough amount of food and fresh water

  • Protect your valuables and keep checking on the electronics to keep them dry

  • Don’t try to use eatables that seem suspicious to avoid infections

  • Keep checking over the surroundings to be sound about the rising water levels

  • Clean the drains by yourself to avoid clogging of harmful water

  • When in trouble or sick, contact the health care providers, or call the presiding authority for further instructions

Floods are one of the most uncanny phenomena of nature, and it takes unpredictable turns every time. Destruction and sorrow are unavoidable without cooperation; and sailing safely through the situation might seem a little less painful then.


Being prepared for calamities should be the priority, and educating people of the same is quintessential. Extending support to restoration workers such as rescue workers, health care professionals, and sanitation workers is important, too, as they work relentlessly to guide victims to protective establishments.


Flood Relief Work in Guizhou Province, China.
Flood Relief Work in Guizhou Province, China. (Via: news.godsdirectcontact.net)

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References


https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/flood-safety/index.html


https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/07/europe-s-deadly-floods-leave-scientists-stunned


https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-chinas-heaviest-rain-in-1000-years-floods-7415657/

https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/148598/deadly-floods-surprise-europe


https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/07/16/world/europe-flooding-germany


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/16/what-is-causing-floods-europe-climate-change


https://news.yahoo.com/aerial-photos-show-scope-devastation-141842489.html


https://www.economist.com/china/2021/07/24/a-deluge-in-china-has-killed-more-than-30-and-caused-terror


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_European_floods


https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/20/heavy-flooding-hits-central-china-affecting-tens-of-millions


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Henan_floods#Zhengzhou


https://thediplomat.com/2021/07/after-massive-floods-zhengzhous-subway-becomes-a-public-mourning-site/


https://weather.com/en-IN/india/news/news/2021-07-27-more-rains-forecast-in-chinas-henan-province-after-heaviest-rainfall-in


https://www.scmp.com/tech/big-tech/article/3142898/china-floods-smart-city-system-capabilities-called-question-after


https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinas-flood-hit-henan-get-nearly-300-mln-emergency-aid-donations-2021-07-21/


https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2021/07/central-europe-staggers-toward-recovery-from-catastrophic-flooding-more-than-200-killed/


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/16/what-is-causing-floods-europe-climate-change


https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/reasons-why-the-floods-in-europe-been-so-deadly-101626523132601.html


https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/148598/deadly-floods-surprise-europe


https://www.ready.gov/floods



Mayuri Chaudhuri is an Indian-based History Honors Graduate and a Content Writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability, who is seeking cognizance to varied issues in the world through the power of a pen.


Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.