Over the past few days, China’s capital recorded its heaviest rainfall in 140 years as remnants of Typhoon Doksuri deluged the region, turning streets into canals where emergency crews used rubber boats to rescue stranded residents.
The city recorded 744.8mm (29.3 inches) of rain between Saturday and Wednesday morning, the Beijing Meteorological Bureau said on Wednesday.
Beijing and the surrounding province of Hebei were hit by severe flooding, with waters rising to dangerous levels. Heavy rain destroyed roads and knocked out power and even pipes carrying drinking water. It flooded roads surrounding the capital, leaving cars waterlogged, while lifting others onto bridges meant for pedestrians.
The number of confirmed deaths from the torrential rains around Beijing rose to 21 on Wednesday after the body of a rescuer was recovered.
Wang Hong-chun, 41, was with other rescuers in a rubber boat when it flipped over in a rapidly flowing river. Four of her teammates survived.
At least 26 people remain missing.
Among the hardest hit areas is Zhuozhou, a small city in Hebei province that borders Beijing’s southwest.
Rescue teams traversed the flooded city in rubber boats as they evacuated residents who were stuck in their homes without running water, gas or electricity since Tuesday afternoon.
It is not known how many people are trapped in flood-stricken areas in the city and surrounding villages. Rescue teams from other provinces came to Zhuozhou to assist with evacuations.
On Wednesday, waters in Gu’an county in Hebei, which borders Zhuozhou, reached as high as halfway up a pole where a surveillance camera was installed.
Nearly 850,000 people have been relocated, local authorities in Hebei province said.
The previous record for rainfall was in 1891, the Beijing Meteorological Bureau said Wednesday, when the city received 609mm (24 inches) of rain. The earliest precise measurements made by machines are from 1883.
The record rainfall from Doksuri, now downgraded to a tropical storm, may not be the last. Typhoon Khanun, which lashed Japan on Wednesday, is expected to head towards China later this week. The powerful storm, with surface winds of up to 180km/h (111mph), may also hit Taiwan before it reaches China.
Thousands of people were evacuated to shelters in schools and other public buildings in suburban Beijing and nearby cities. The central government is disbursing 44 million yuan ($6.1m) for disaster relief in affected provinces.
The severity of the flooding took the Chinese capital by surprise. Beijing usually has dry summers but had a stretch of record-breaking heat this year.