China heatwave: Sichuan residents flee heatwaves and power cuts underground

By Melissa Zhu
BBC News

  • Published
Diners at a hotpot restaurant in ChongqingImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Some diners are having spicy hotpot underground as the temperature is cooler

Residents in China's southwestern provinces are taking creative measures to deal with a record heat wave that has seen temperatures exceed 40C(104F).

Those in Chongqing and neighbouring Sichuan are heading into underground bunkers and cave restaurants in an attempt to seek shelter from the heat.

Some experts say the intensity of the heatwave could make it one of the worst recorded in global history.

The prolonged heatwave has exacerbated a severe drought in China.

Some train stations in the provinces dimmed their usually bright lights to save electricity, with photos and videos on social media show eerie scenes of people sitting in darkened train carriages in Chongqing and walking down darkened streets.

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To conserve power, government offices in Sichuan were reportedly asked to keep air conditioning levels at no lower than 26C, while Chongqing authorities ordered industrial firms to restrict output until at least Thursday.

In lieu of this, some companies reportedly used large ice blocks to help cool their offices down.

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Outside the office, diners also went underground in a bid to further escape the heat.

"Cave hotpot" restaurants are often frequented during the summer months, as the temperature is cooler underground - but have now become a mainstay.

The temperature at one cave hotpot restaurant was 16C, compared to a scorching 42C outside, state news outlet China Daily reported on Saturday.

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Others are seeking shelter in underground tunnels, laying out mats or hanging hammocks from beams.

Agricultural producers have been especially hard-hit during the heatwave and resulting drought.

One viral video showed a chicken farmer in Sichuan weeping as all of her chickens had died overnight due to power outages on a hot day.

But parts of Sichuan, the country's largest producer of hydropower, got some relief on Thursday when heavy rains hit overnight - although 30,000 had to be evacuated due to the storms, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

The meteorological administration said hot weather was expected to continue for at least the next three days in the area as well as provinces surrounding commercial hub Shanghai.

But it's not just Sichuan that has been affected - with less rainfall flowing into China's Yangtze River, in particular the Three Gorges Dam, water levels have dropped - and energy curtailed across various cities in China, including the financial hub of Shanghai, as a result.

Has the Three Gorges Dam proved detractors right?

The Three Gorges Dam has been followed by controversy since it was on the drawing board.

For its supporters, the enormous dam has been an engineering marvel delivering vast amounts of electricity and proving much needed flood control for the mighty Yangtze River.

But its detractors say the dam has sent ancient towns underwater, required millions of people to be moved, has been responsible for wiping out species of fish and other animals, including the Yangtze River dolphins and sturgeons.

Now, in the midst of a major drought which has seen river levels drop to alarmingly low levels, it can't even deliver the hydroelectricity which Sichuan Province needs to keep the economy ticking along in this crucial inland province, especially in the cities of Chengdu and Chongqing.

Clearly one drought (massive though it is) is not going to kill the Three Gorges Dam but with climate change likely to deliver many more disastrous weather events in the future, officials will surely be considering other power options for the region.

In a bit of irony, historic Buddhist relics which have long been underwater have re-appeared, in recent weeks, as the water has receded, with the statues casting their eyes on the world as mankind has left it in 2022.

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Media caption,

Health workers and other people in Shanghai talk about how they're dealing with China's extreme heat

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