Question after floods: Did China build too fast?

Associated Press Modified: July 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm •  Published: July 23, 2012

BEIJING (AP) — Recent heavy rains across much of China have left nearly 100 people dead, state media said Tuesday. More than a third of the fatalities were in the flood-ravaged capital, where some residents questioned whether the city's rapid push for modernization came at the expense of basic infrastructure such as drainage networks.

Authorities in Beijing were still trying to pump water from sections of flooded highway after Saturday night's torrential downpour, the city's heaviest rain in six decades.

The city government said 37 people died: 25 drowned, six were killed when houses collapsed, one was hit by lightning and five were electrocuted by fallen power lines.

Beijing residents shared photos online of submerged cars stranded on flooded streets, city buses with water up to commuters' knees and cascades of water rushing down the steps of overpasses.

Nearly 57,000 people were evacuated from their homes and damage from the storm reached at least 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion), according to a report by the Beijing Daily newspaper on the Beijing government website.

Heavy rain also proved deadly elsewhere in the country. The official Xinhua News Agency reported late Monday that 95 people had died and 45 were still missing across 17 Chinese provinces and municipalities, including Beijing. It cited the Civil Affairs Bureau.

Although Beijing's worst-hit areas were in rural hilly outskirts of the city, the scale of the disaster was a major embarrassment for China's showcase capital, where such things are not supposed to happen.

The city has seen tens of billions of dollars poured into its modernization, including iconic venues for the 2008 Olympics, the world's second-largest airport, new subway lines and dazzling skyscrapers. But the floods raised questions about whether basics like drainage were neglected.

"If so much chaos can be triggered in Beijing, the capital of the nation, problems in urban infrastructure of many other places can only be worse," said a commentary in Monday's state-run Global Times newspaper. "In terms of drainage technology, China is decades behind developed societies."

The criticism mirrors some of that seen after a high-speed train crash that killed 40 people in Wenzhou in southeastern China a year ago Monday. That turned into a public-relations nightmare for the government and led many to question the quality of infrastructure in the country and the government's transparency on disasters.

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