Storms disrupt Beijing flights; downpours also affect flights in other parts of China

A woman holding an umbrella makes her way during a rainstorm in Beijing, on Aug 12, 2017.
A woman holding an umbrella makes her way during a rainstorm in Beijing, on Aug 12, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Thunderstorms lashed Beijing on Saturday (Aug 12), disrupting hundreds of flights at one of the world's largest airports, while the authorities warned that rain and wind could cause landslides in Sichuan province where a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck this week.

Beijing city authorities raised their weather alert level early on Saturday afternoon to "orange" from "yellow", warning that lightning, hail, wind and as much as 70mm of rain would hit the city, potentially causing flash floods in mountainous areas.

By early afternoon, rain subsided in some parts of the capital, but nine roads were still flooded and 171 tourist sites were shut, the official news agency Xinhua said. 

At China’s busiest airport, almost 500 flights were listed as cancelled from 9 am until midnight and 182 were delayed, the website of Beijing Capital International Airport showed, urging travellers to check for flight updates.

Air China said on its Weibo social media account that 137 of its flights in and out of the capital had been cancelled by 11 am.

Torrential rainstorms are fairly frequent in Beijing in the summer months, often causing long delays at the airport.

One user of China’s Twitter-like Weibo said she had been stuck at the airport for eight hours waiting for a flight home. “There are no free seats, I’m having to sit on the floor, I’m jetlagged and I’m really tired,” said the user, who goes by the handle ‘Vivian not soymilk’.

Other airports affected by the downpours included those in Shanghai, Nanjing in Jiangsu province, and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, along the Yangtze River delta.

The others were in northern regions: Shijiazhuang in Hebei, Taiyuan in Shanxi, Lanzhou in Gansu, Xining in Qinghai and Yinchuan in Ningxia.

In a statement, China's National Meteorological Centre cautioned rescue crews working in Jiuzhaigou, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, to be on alert for landslides and lightning.

Widespread flooding also hit two towns, Xiangbei and Xiangxi in the central province of Hunan, Xinhua said. Rainfall across the province ranged from 100mm to 200 mm.

The extreme weather followed a tornado that struck Inner Mongolia on Friday, killing five people, injuring more than 50, and destroying homes in Chifeng, a major city.