Widespread flooding resulting from Typhoon Rumbia’s heavy rains and strong winds has devastated China’s biggest vegetable-producing area and home to the country’s largest wholesale market, and local residents are blaming a manmade miscalculation for making the damage worse.
After making landfall in Shanghai on Aug. 17, the storm moved through the eastern part of China, affecting Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong, and Hubei provinces. Shandong was particularly hard-hit, with 13 cities in the disaster zone. At least 24 people have died, according to the Chinese regime’s official mouthpiece, People’s Daily.
In Shouguang City, in Shandong province, residents are upset that authorities released water from three reservoirs into a local river during the storm period, aggravating the flooding.
The flooding has destroyed many people’s livelihoods. Residents posted photos and videos to social media about the conditions in Shouguang, showing vegetable farms completely submerged and animal carcasses floating in the water. Those were quickly deleted by internet censors.
Residents took to social media to complain of authorities’ decision to release the reservoir water downstream of the Mi River near Shouguang. One online post shows an official government document announcing that water from the three reservoirs would be released beginning from the morning of Aug. 19 morning through Aug. 21 at about 6:15 p.m. local time.
Residents received the news on Aug. 19 and were told to evacuate the area. By then, it was already too late to do anything about their property or farm animals. Meanwhile, after the storm, authorities failed to send rescue missions and locals were left largely on their own to deal with the aftermath, according to netizen posts.
Local media were silent on the matter. It wasn’t until Aug. 22 that Weifang Evening News, a local newspaper, addressed the flooding in a Sina Weibo post.
Beijing News, a newspaper based in the capital, had already reported about the severity of flooding in several small villages and towns, such as Shangkou and Kouzi. One villager, Ms. Li from Kouzi New Village, said she lost more than 10,000 pigs that she owned. That village is located on the shore of the Mi River, and was submerged about three meters (9.84 feet) by river overflows, according to Beijing News.
Netizens called the catastrophe a manmade disaster, owing to the authorities’ decision with the reservoirs.
One user, “Jaly,” wrote that in the past, when the city experienced a drought, authorities wouldn’t release water from one of the reservoirs, called Qingzhou, unless residents paid for the water. “Now that the reservoir is full, you just let Shouguang know with an announcement that you’ll release the water? Do you know how many people living in the villages by the river had to evacuate in the middle of the night?”
On Aug. 23, the Weifang City government—Shouguang is under its administration—held a press conference to address the incident.
Zhou Shouzong, director of the Weifang Flood Control and Drought Relief Command Office, defended the decision, saying it was necessary to release the water, according to a report by the Hong Kong Economic Times.
“If we didn’t discharge the water, it would have posed a serious threat to the safety of the reservoirs, and would even have increased the risk of the dams collapsing. That would have threatened the lives of millions of residents living in downstream areas of the river,” he said.
One staffer with the Shouguang water conservancy department told Hong Kong Economic Times that he “did not think” that the water levels would exceed their estimates and reach such high water levels after releasing reservoir waters.
By Aug. 23, waters had receded significantly, but the streets were filled with mud.
Vegetable prices in Shouguang have already gone up as a result of the flooding, including for coriander, spinach, and cucumbers, netizens also reported. They fear that since Shouguang supplies many regions of China with vegetables, this recent flood will lead to price increases all over the country.
Hong Ning and Li Jing contributed to this report.