China’s Deadliest Flood

This post was written by Anna Clayton

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The Central China flood of the summer of 1931 is the deadliest water-related natural disasters in history

Considered as being one of the worst floods in human history, the Central China floods from 1931 are most certainly the deadliest of the twentieth century.

Before this series of disastrous events, China went through a sever and long drought, between 1928 to 1930. Following this tough period, in the winter of late 1930, there were heavy snowstorms and blizzards. When spring came, in 1931, it brought intense rainfall that, coupled with thawed ice and snow accumulated over the rough winter, raised the levels of the rivers significantly.

The heavy rainfall continued throughout the summer, intensifying in the months of July and August. The year was also marked by extreme cyclone activity, nine cyclones hitting the area over the course of the year, seven in July alone, whereas the yearly average was of just two. This period of unusual weather caused some major rivers to rise and overflow.

One of them was the Yangtze River, which submerged most of the surrounding area when its banks burst. The devastation it caused affected over 28 million people and sources at the time estimated the total death toll at approximately 145.000. The Yangtze flood was at its peak between July and August, as the rainfall reached 24 inches, as reported by a number of different weather stations.

At the same time, the Yellow River also broke its banks, which was and still is very important to Chinese trade and civilization as well. Therefore, as the Yellow river rose, and flooded the area, China became weaker from a social and economical viewpoint. It caused massive losses in farming, housing and life.

The Huai River also rose and overflowed, and the waters headed towards Nanjing, the capital of China at the time. As Nanjing was located on an island, it suffered colossal damages and the loss of million of lives. Those who didn’t drown when the water first hit the city, died from waterborne diseases like typhus and cholera. Due to the desperate nature of the situation many residents sold wives and daughters, cases of cannibalism and infanticide were reported to the government, as food and water supplies ran out.

On August 19th, in Hankou, the high-water mark was reached, as the water levels reached 53 feet above the normal level. On August 25th, the flood rushing through the Grand Canal broke the dikes on Gaoyou Lake and, as a result, over 200.000 people died in their sleep.

The devastation of the 1931 Central China flood was responsible for the death of an estimated 4 million people, making it the most disastrous natural event, not only in the history of China, but that of mankind.


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