Shanghai Flood

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(Note: you can see a photo of the flood by clicking here.)

Shanghai's Flood of the Century
(by Vivian Krigline, August 2001)

We had a storm system come in on the afternoon of the August 5th. I knew something was coming because I got a headache on Saturday that didn't quit (until later Sunday). We went out to dinner Sunday evening to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary, and had just gotten home good when it started raining very hard -- complete with thunder and lightning! The rain lasted all night, which isn't anything new, except... 

Our friend Mark was here and getting ready to leave on Monday morning. He had to be at the bus to go the airport by 10:00. Michael, Andrew and I had class on Monday, also. We had already decided that I would take Andrew to school by 8:45 and I would get to class by 9:00. Michael would take Mark to the hotel to meet the bus by 10:00 then come on to school.

Monday morning it was just drizzling a little and from our 4th floor apartment in the middle of the complex, all looked normal. Andrew and I got going (he did wear his rain boots and I had on my tennis shoes) around 8:30 for our 10 to 15 minute walk to his school. I should have known something was wrong when we stepped out the gate of our complex. The traffic was at a standstill and water was covering the bicycle lane and part of the road.

I should have turned around and gone home! BUT, we are in Shanghai, not Columbia. Nothing closes for any kind of weather here! Mind you the sidewalk on our side of the street was also torn up due to construction. Well, Andrew and I decided to go for it. We trudged through the mud along bricks next to the street to get to the corner to cross over our first highway. No problem on our side of the street. But, when we crossed over, there wasn't a dry place to get onto the sidewalk. So we stood in the middle of the road for a few minutes debating whether to turn back or get wet crossing to the opposite sidewalk. Of course we decided to get wet and keep going. I got wet, Andrew was still dry!

The next intersection has the expressway overhead and a six-lane highway with bike lanes on ground level. You guessed it. The areas next to all the sidewalk curbs were flooded, and yes, we kept going -- wading through the water like everyone else! (Oh yea, we were certainly not alone on the streets -- everyone else was trying to get to work too!) However, Shanghai people wear better clothes for floods! The ladies wear skirts or mid-calf length pants and sandals (no socks) -- the men just took off their shoes and rolled up their pant legs!

So, off we go. Halfway to our destination (Andrew’s school), we stopped at the Carrefore department store to buy socks because my shoes and pant legs were soaked. Andrew had his dry shoes with him but no dry socks for the day. I also called Michael to warn him of the dangers along the roadway and to see if any one would be at school. Andrew’s teacher had already called our home since we were 15 minutes late and she was worried!

So we kept going -- two and a half blocks to go with very little dry ground in between. We did wade across the main street, eventually getting to a dry plaza to cut through, but when we got to the sidewalk opposite Andrew’s school -- it was flooded. So in we go again. This time Andrew’s boots weren’t quite tall enough. A passing car kicked up a wave, and it sloshed in over the top as we crossed the street! The cars/taxis, bicycles, and motorcycles were still moving (at least those that hadn’t stalled and flooded out). OK, Andrew is safe and relatively dry now. It is around 9:15. So I head off.

My school is only about 1.5 miles (2 km) from Andrew’s school, but there is no direct route.  Go over two blocks to Gubei Lu, then up two blocks and cut through on a side street about a block and a half then back down HongQiao four blocks. I’d never walked it before (I take a taxi), but since I couldn’t get home without swimming four blocks, I decided to give it a try. After wading across one street, I found dry ground and walked two blocks over to Gubei Lu. No taxis were available, so I walked two more blocks and found the side street to also be dry. I took that street over to HongQiao. Now it is 9:45. Not bad, I only have four blocks to walk -- I should be at school by 10:00. About half a block up I noticed that traffic was at a stand still here as well. Good thing I didn’t get a taxi -- I later heard of others taking two hours to get through the mess in a taxi or bus. Now there is no turning back. And so far everything along the sidewalk is dry. However, after three blocks, I see a crowd of people. When I got to them, most were just looking at an accident holding up the traffic I had just walked past. But, up ahead was more trouble. You guessed it – the street and sidewalk was flooded out. I only had a little more that a block to go to get to my school. And there really wasn’t anywhere to go!

I pause a moment to remind you of where we are. Remember our stories about the three wheel bicycles used for deliveries all around the city? Well, because of the weather, these guys were not making deliveries. So, being the resourceful people that they are, they were offering rides (for a price) through the flooded streets. So, yes, I, Vivian (by myself) decide to negotiate for such a ride to get the remainder of the way to school! The guy also gets two other people in his little cart with me, and off we go. We had to dodge the cars (that are now trying to “float” through the bicycle lanes because their lanes are not moving), the motorcycles (that are still plowing their way through the water), and the other bicycles and carts like ours. I had already decided to have fun, so I was doing fine!

The end of the story should come at this point since it was just a short distance to where I wanted to go. But, the driver apparently didn’t know where I needed to stop, and though the three of us in the back were trying to get him to stop he didn’t until we were again knee deep in water. (Both men with me were Chinese, but one spoke a little English -- they were kind and tried to be helpful). Up ahead is a major intersection – another overhead expressway with 8 lanes of traffic and bicycle lanes on both sides of the street. It is also a major bus stop. The other two men wanted off at the next bus stop across this intersection. Well, we couldn’t turn around where we were to let me off, and I was not going to get out to swim the rest of the way back! So off we go to drop off the two men. Unfortunately, the water was much deeper on the other side of the highway. Water was starting to come into the cart when the cars went by (meaning that the water was almost two feet deep, so I got wet anyway!). We eventually made it to their bus stop. The whole area was flooded except the narrow “bus stop” island between the street and bicycle lane. All I could see was water, all the way up the street. Somehow my driver (who had be exhausted after peddling through all that water!) managed to turn around. When we got back to the intersection, it was now jammed with stalled buses and cars, bicycles, etc. trying to go in all different directions at once (by now many of the passengers had gotten out, wading through the water to try to find alternative ways to get where they were going) . I held on, now probably wetter than if I had walked, and my weary driver wove our way back up the flooded street. It was 10:30 when I made it to the dry sidewalk in front of my school. When I entered the office there were just a few people around. None of my classmates were there and my teacher wasn’t there yet either.

Now, just a few minutes later, Michael came in -- still completely dry! He said he was able to walk those four blocks down Hongqiao (from the hotel where he left Mark) without getting wet. (This was the same street I could not get through!) At a few points, he did have to very carefully balance along a small brick retaining wall next to the shrubbery and even “swing” around trees and bushes to keep from falling into the water. The water may have also receded an inch or so in some places since I had been there. He also had to rent a three wheel bicycle to get across the flooded street in front of the school! (I wonder if it was the same bike I had used?) Oh well. My adventure was much more exciting than his!

My teacher also arrived shortly thereafter, so the two of us went over our lesson.

The trip home was basically uneventful, as most of the water had receded by noon. We had another storm Thursday night that brought more flooding around town. But we were not as affected this time. Andrew got his chance to ride in a three-wheel cart that morning to cross a flooded intersection, but the rest of the walk was dry.

Thus ends yet another adventure. I suppose if I were back in Columbia, I would have been in my car, hoping it wouldn’t stall or flood out! Then I would have had to walk through the flooded parking lot like everyone else. Or maybe the Highway Dept would have closed the roads and everyone would have stayed home. Not much excitement in that!

Our experience made me feel so much sympathy for those people all over the world that have to endure flooding like we had a taste of. Monsoon rains plague much of Southeast Asia from India to the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of families here had to clean mud and sewage from their ground-floor homes, as do countless others affected by floods annually. We have friends in this region, so I am reminded to think of them when I am trudging through our small rainstorms! I hope you do the same!

Well this is far too long and it took far to much time to write. But I just had to take the opportunity to put it on paper. It is certainly an adventure I will never forget!


© 2001 Vivian Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print or copy this article, or link to it, for personal or classroom use.

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