China steps up search for missing after flash flood kills 17, leaves thousands homeless in northwest

Disaster relief departments in China’s northwestern province of Qinghai were urged to step up the search for survivors after a flash flood in rural areas of the capital killed at least 17 people, with an equal number reported missing.

The flood hit Datong county in the provincial capital Xining in the early hours of Thursday morning, following torrential rains overnight. More than 6,000 people across six villages were “affected”, according to the local government, which issued a level 2 alarm – the second-highest alert on a national four-tier emergency response system.

“Several houses, roads and bridges were damaged, with at least two buildings washed away,” Han Xianghui, deputy director of the provincial emergency management department, said on Friday.

Continuous rainfall in recent days had saturated and loosened the top soil in the area, the situation made worse by the sudden, intense rainstorm on Wednesday night, which triggered the “mountain torrent”, Han explained.

The intense showers caused the water flow in the ShadaiRriver to swell to about 100 cubic metres per second, unleashing the deluge, he said.

This comes days after seven people were killed when mountain rains triggered a flash flood at a tourist spot in southwestern Sichuan province, as vast swathes of China battle an uptick in extreme weather.

A senior official of the national flood and drought relief office led a team to Datong on Thursday to guide the emergency response.

“We must do our best to search and rescue people, ascertain the number of missing as soon as possible, and prevent secondary disasters,” State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters deputy commander Wang Xiangxi said, urging officials to focus on rehabilitating those displaced.

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Wang also asked Qinghai officials to treat the disaster as a warning on the need for stronger flood monitoring and forecasting, as well as mitigating disaster risks and hidden dangers such as homes encroaching on river banks.

The local government has set up two resettlement sites for those affected, with more than 1,200 residents relocated, state news agency Xinhua reported.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.