33. Catastrophe Strikes
Between snow and ice melt, heavy rains, and a seemingly ceaseless sequence of cyclones, the Yangtze and Huai rivers underwent disastrous flooding. Downstream, the waters rose nearly 6 feet above the Shanghai Bund – the waterfront area in the city’s center. Upstream, in the region of Wuhan, the water level rose an incredible 53 feet above the yearly average. Significant but relatively less disastrous flooding also occurred in the Yellow River basin and along the Grand Canal.
Farmlands and housing along the rivers were devastated. 15% of the rice and wheat crops were destroyed, in a country that had little margin to spare. 53 million people were impacted. The toll in lives was horrific. About 150,000 people were directly drowned, while millions more perished from starvation and in the subsequent diseases and epidemics. All in all, up to 4 million people perished, making the 1931 China Floods history’s worst natural disaster.