August 14th, 2012 | China Daily Lessons of the storm
The natural disaster that hit China’s capital city last month has prompted residents to ensure that they’re fully prepared for the next encounter with Mother Nature. Peng Yining, Jiang Xueqing and Hu Yongqi report from Beijing.
In the week following the devastating rainstorms that claimed 77 lives in Beijing and the surrounding area on July 21, Cui Fei packed her apartment with survival equipment, including bottled water, flashlights, safety hammers, military-style knives and canned food.
“I had never thought about buying a household disaster kit until the storm hit Beijing,” said the 27-year-old. “Living in such a large modern city, who would think about keeping a survival kit under their bed? I do now, though. I guess the storm was a wake-up call for everybody.”
She said the floodwater around her apartment block reached half a meter on the fateful night. Although the water was not deep enough to pose a threat to Cui’s fourth-floor apartment, the following week’s news reports about people who died because they were unprepared prompted her to buy the survival equipment.
The kit, ordered through Taobao, China’s most popular online market place, cost roughly 400 yuan ($60), and Cui also bought the three-volume SAS Survival Handbook, written by John Wiseman, a former instructor with the British Army’s Special Air Squadron.
“The handbook teaches you how to drive safely in a downpour,” she said. “A friend recommended it to me. It’s now becoming very popular.”
Raising public awareness
The Red Cross Society of China has also been at pains to raise public awareness. The society’s branch in the city of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province issued a brochure through the local newspaper to publicize survival measures during torrential rain. The society will also print 10,000 copies for distribution to residents of 24 counties and districts in the city, especially the mountainous regions and areas that are easily flooded.
“We’ve previously published similar brochures on the basics of first aid, such as bandaging and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but the new brochure is more about hands-on emergency response tips for some of the most common natural disasters and events, including rainstorms,” said Zhai Lin, deputy director of the operations department at the branch. He added that the brochures will be available later this month, and that doctors will ensure that the instructions are easy to understand.
In the summer of 2011, a sudden downpour hit a village in Shijiazhuang’s Pingshan county, causing several houses to collapse. This year, with the flood season coming again, the city government is paying serious attention to administration and guiding people’s responses to emergency situations, Zhai said.
Earlier this year, the Red Cross sent doctors to five communities in Shijiazhuang to train locals in first-aid skills. At least 100, mainly middle-aged, people attended each of the two- or three-hour training sessions, where the medics explained basic skills and encouraged the participants to demonstrate what they’d learned in front of the class.
“Many elderly people sitting at the back of the room stood up during the training, craning their necks and watching the doctors very attentively. They didn’t want to miss a single detail,” said Zhai. “It was obvious that they were very interested in learning first-aid skills, although, speaking frankly, public awareness of disaster prevention is still low in China. We are trying different methods to hammer this information home.”
About 700,000 people out of Shijiazhuang’s population of 10.28 million undertook first-aid training and gained elementary medical aid certificates from the Red Cross between 2007 and 2012. Certificate holders are examined every two years, and their certificate is renewed upon successful completion of the tests.
Response on the roads
In response to the rains, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources sent 39 teams to survey 366 highways extending 3,761 kilometers across the city from July 31 to Aug 4. The results of the survey, released on Aug 6, warned that 2,005 sections are vulnerable to collapse if severely flooded.
The bureau said warning signs will be set up at perilous sections to alert drivers and passers-by. During heavy rains, the district and township governments will station officials to safeguard the risky roads if required, the bureau said.
City life is not as safe as people think, according to Li Wei, a senior member of the Blue Sky Rescue Team, an independent NGO. “We get all sort of requests for help: a hornet’s nest on a balcony, people losing their way while hiking, people trapped in an elevator,” he said. “It might be shocking to hear, but people often died in places they were most familiar with, simply because they were too relaxed and ignored the potential dangers.”
For Wu Baoguo, 42-year-old taxi driver, the news that a driver had drowned in the center of Beijing during the July 21 storm, when a 4-meter flash flood engulfed his vehicle, sounded alarm bells.
Wu watched an online tutorial that teaches drivers to break windows and escape from a flooded vehicle. The video was uploaded to Youku, one of China’s most popular video-sharing websites, two days after the fatal deluge. So far, it’s been watched nearly 3 million times and has garnered more than 26,000 comments.
“For any driver, the worst nightmare would be getting stuck in the car and drowning,” Wu said. “My wife insisted that I put a safety hammer in my car, but I know the safest thing would be to never drive in extreme weather conditions,” he said.
On Aug 7, the vehicle management division of Beijing Traffic Management Bureau held its first rescue drill to show drivers how to escape from a submerged vehicle. Fire extinguishers and safety hammers were shown to be the most effective tools for breaking reinforced window glass.
In the drill, the glass shattered after being hit twice with a fire extinguisher. Under Chinese law, manufacturers are obliged to equip every car with a fire extinguisher, which is usually located under the driver’s seat.
However, not all manufacturers adhere to the rules, as Du Zhengxing, a 31-year-old from Beijing’s Haidian district, discovered when he purchased his car earlier this year. “I believe a fire extinguisher is a necessity and so I bought one, just to be on the safe side. It may help me out if I’m trapped in the car someday,” he said.
Although, some motorists have complained that the safety hammers currently on sale are too small to smash a window covered by a plastic film, one officer in the drill demonstrated that technique is more important that brute force by easily smashing a car window by striking at the weaker areas around the edges.
The officer said safety hammers have to be manufactured according to a national standard and drivers should refuse to buy those that don’t carry a certificate of authenticity.
The police have advised drivers to retract the front seat and squad down to maximize the force with which they strike the glass. Moreover, drivers should also check the depth of the water during a downpour and release the car’s electric locks in advance. Concerned residents can apply online for a training session in Beijing’s Shunyi district.
After the deluge, Zhuoka Electric Device Co of Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, began selling safety hammers online at a price of 148 yuan. “In the last 15 days, we have sold around 8,000 on Taobao,” said Yao Min, a company salesman, adding that the volume of sales was surprising.
“Next summer, we will prepare earlier and sell other types of survival equipment, such as car covers and tow ropes. ” he said.
For Cui, the storm has introduced an unexpected and unwelcome element to her life. “As a person who lives alone, I’ve always worried about losing my keys or a gas leak or burglary,” she said. “But now I have one more thing to worry about, natural disasters.”
Rainstorm survival tips
Before a storm
Move to a higher position from dilapidated or low-lying buildings.
Put sandbags around the door if you live in a bungalow or on the first floor.
Keep that electric circuits and cookers are isolated.
Ensure stocks of food, medicines and other daily necessities.
During a storm
Stay at home. If you have to go out, skirt any flooded areas, stay close to buildings and keep an eye out for loose drain covers.
Switch off the electricity if the water enters your home.
Driving in a storm
Try to skirt flooded areas. If that proves impossible, engage a low gear and dive slowly and steadily through the affected area. Try not to stop or change gears.
Don’t try to drive through a flooded area alone.
Don’t stay in the car during an especially heavy downpour. Unlock the doors and be prepared to get out at any minute. Consider pulling over and leaving the vehicle, don’t wait until the water level makes the road impassible.
Stay calm if the engine stalls when driving through a flooded area. You will not be in danger as long as the water does not rise above the windows. Don’t restart the engine.
If you are endangered by mountain torrents
Climb to an elevated slope or highland via a projected route if you have time.
Use boats, rafts, doors and wooden beds as transport if you are surrounded by water.
Climb a tree or scale a high wall. Try to gain access to tall buildings or rooftops and wait to be rescued. Don’t try to escape by swimming on your own.
Avoid crossing rivers in mountainous areas that are constantly inundated by heavy rains. Look out for landslides and falling stones.
Avoid going close to damaged power lines or high-voltage towers.
Take medicines to help prevent illness when the flood has receded.
How to avoid being struck by lightning
Stay away from open areas, large billboards and antennas.
Don’t attempt to use a cellphone or hide under trees, telegraph poles or tower cranes.
Don’t stand next to iron railings, metal clotheslines or railroads. Avoid metals that conduct electricity.
Don’t use an umbrella with a metal tip. If involved in sports, relinquish contact with equipment that contains iron, such as badminton rackets and golf clubs.
Remove your eyeglasses, watches and belts.
Don’t stand on top of mountains or buildings. Keep away from chimneys and trees standing alone.
Don’t ride a bike or a motorcycle.
Avoid water-related activities, including fishing, swimming or rowing a boat.
If possible, find a building with a lightning rod or an enclosure with a metal roof. Cars provide good shelter from lightning.
If you don’t have access to any of the above shelters, take cover in low-lying areas as quickly as possible. Place your feet together, squat down and hold your knees with both hands. Don’t let your arms touch the ground and don’t lie on the ground.
Wear rubber-soled sneakers and carry an insulated raincoat when traveling during the rainy season. Avoid carrying keys and other metal objects, if possible. Don’t camp at the top of a mountain, on high hills or open ground. If sheltering in a cave, keep away from the entrance.
Turn off your cellphone. Don’t stand at the edge of woods or near large rocks, and don’t walk across open fields. Avoid crowding against one another or holding hands.
Rainstorm warning signals
In China, a storm is categorized as rainfall of at least 50 millimeters over a period of 24 hours. Storm warning signals come in four categories, with each represented by a different color.
Blue means the rainfall in a period of 12 hours will amount to at least 50 mm, or has already reached 50 mm and the rain is likely to continue;
Yellow means rainfall of at least 50 mm in a period of 6 hours, or has already reached 50 mm and the rain is likely to continue;
Orange means rainfall of at least 50 mm in a period of 3 hours, or has already reached 50 mm and the rain is likely to continue;
Red means the rainfall in a period of 3 hours will be at least 100 mm, or has already reached 100 mm and the rain is likely to continue.
How to escape from a sinking car
Stay calm and release your seatbelt as quickly as possible. Take care not to allow the belt to become tangled.
Open the side windows or doors. If they jam, try to break a window with an emergency hammer, the removable headrests or a fire extinguisher. Instead of hitting the middle of the window, aim for the edges, which are more fragile. Forget about the windshield, in most cases they are unbreakable.
Extreme water pressure may prevent you from opening a door if you attempt to do so before the pressure has equalized in and outside the vehicle. Equalization happens when the vehicle is almost full of water. Take a deep breath and push a door open.
Source: The Red Cross Society of China Shijiazhuang Branch
By Peng Yining, Jiang Xueqing and Hu Yongqi