China Syndrome

Steve's picture

Last time I asked that you stay tuned for the ‘Worst Dam Disaster in History’.  From the title of this blog you might guess where that happened.  Yep, China.  The year, 1975 – not that long ago really.

From the late 1950’s to mid 1970’s, China went on a dam building binge. Lacking local talent, Russians largely supervised the design, engineering, and construction of 100s of dams. Impoundment and distribution of irrigation water to grow food for the masses drove the frenzy.

Recall that this was the era of the Chinese cultural revolution. Whistle blowers of any ilk were not warmly received. This mindset shunted anything that delayed progress, including pesky safety concerns.

As far as I know, most of the dams worked adequately until August, 1975 when Henan Province tangled with Typhoon Nina.  Dropping a year’s worth of rain in 24 hours, Nina knocked out more than 60 dams in the Province. Earth-filled Banqiao dam, at one-half billion cubic meters capacity, topped the list.

Banqiao’s smallish spillways could not accommodate Nina’s massive inflows. (Inadequate spillway capacity had been one of those pesky concerns, I understand.) The 25 m high structure overtopped at 11:30 PM, August 7. Within hours, a 300m wide section of the dam swept down river along with that half-billion cubic meters of water.

Below, fairly flat land lay heavily populated with communal farms. In the style of the era, officials issued no warning whatsoever prior to, or after, the overtopping. Sleeping residents had to deal with a midnight rampage on their own. The toll was horrific. Immediate casualties totaled 26,000.  100,000 more perished from famine and disease in the months that followed.

No one in power wanted to embarrass aging Chairman Mao with a public failure of such magnitude, so the entire episode was hushed up. The only evidence that remains are a few grainy photographs. Amazing that the world's worst dam disaster could be effectively erased from history. Very few people, even in China, have ever heard about it.

Clearly the U.S. government is not as efficient as the cold war Chinese in hiding history. Gosh, everyone knows the truth about Area 51 and those Apollo moon landings.

Steven N. Ward   Santa Cruz


micheal hatrick's picture

It seems like we need to shed more importance on the China syndrome. The topessayservices had mentioned about it and and I was rather shocked simply listening to it.

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