Covid-19 and now floods: Wuhan, first epicentre of the pandemic, braces again

Phoebe Zhang
·4-min read

Wuhan in central China is bracing for potentially devastating floods as intense downpours pound the surrounding region, threatening the metropolis of over 11 million people with a second disaster as it recovers from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, has been hit by at least seven rounds of heavy rain since early June. Each of those has produced average cumulative rainfall of 55.3cm (21.8 inches) and flooded several cities, prompting the provincial government to raise its emergency response to the second-highest tier.

The last time Wuhan entered emergency mode was in January, in response to the discovery of the illness that was to be named Covid-19. Late that month, the city entered a strict 76-day lockdown to halt the spread of the disease.

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On Thursday afternoon, workers hired by the local government stacked up sandbags beside the Yangtze River to protect against a different kind of threat. Nearby, dozens more hurried to close ferry gates and build a temporary brick wall, lined with hay mats and supported by sandbags behind, while officials were stationed in watch posts along the river bank to monitor rising water levels.

A dock in Wuhan is blocked with sandbags to prevent flooding. Photo: Tom Wang
A dock in Wuhan is blocked with sandbags to prevent flooding. Photo: Tom Wang

One worker, who declined to give his name, said he had toiled around the clock to prepare for the heavy rain expected in the coming days. He said a wall of sandbags two metres high had been built to reinforce the embankment.

“The water is rising fast,” he said. “It only reached my ankle yesterday, but it is up to my knee now.”

Some parts of the riverside promenade had been closed to visitors, although many locals ignored police warnings by entering taped-off sections to go swimming.

The Wuhan government has ordered the closure of 188 ferry gates, shut down river ports and deployed over 12,000 people to patrol vulnerable spots along the Yangtze and its tributaries.

On Thursday, a water level at the Hankou Port in Wuhan reached 27.91 metres (91.6 feet), 61cm above alert level. The water level is expected to keep rising, with more heavy rain forecast in the coming days and increased water inflow from the tributaries.

Also on Thursday, the local government released a report explaining that because of Wuhan’s geography – sandwiched between Dongting Lake and the Hanjiang River on the upstream and Poyang Lake on the downstream – the city would be vulnerable to flooding if the heavy rain persisted.

Some local residents expressed dismay at their city’s misfortune so soon after enduring another crisis.

“Wuhan has just emerged from Covid-19, and now comes the flood. It’s such a disastrous year,” Mei Renxiang, a Wuhan resident, said. “It’s flooding everywhere; everywhere I look, it’s water. I have rarely seen anything like this. I hope we can all make it through this time.”

Some older residents still have vivid memories of past floods. A man surnamed Wang, who went swimming on Thursday, said the city had experienced flooding before but the situation had never been too serious.

“I’m not nervous at all,” he said. “We’ll be fine as long as we are prepared.”

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