On August 18, 1931, the major rivers of eastern China flooded disastrously into nearby towns and farms. The Huai, Huang (Yellow), and Yangtze rivers all overflowed their banks. While many died from drowning or being crushed by debris others starved or were or felled from the effects of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhus. Millions were left injured or homeless.

The floods were the result of unusual weather patterns and decades of poor river management. A long period of drought was followed by a severe winter, including record snowfall and heavy rains. This raised the water level of the rivers, whose beds had already become higher than the surrounding land. Silt had built up on the riverbeds as engineers constructed earthen levees and dikes along river banks, blocking the river’s natural flood plain. In 1931, pressure from the unusually heavy river burst the levees.

cholera
Noun

infectious, sometimes fatal disease that harms the intestines.

construct
Verb

to build or erect.

debris
Noun

remains of something broken or destroyed; waste, or garbage.

Noun

a barrier, usually a natural or artificial wall used to regulate water levels.

Noun

period of greatly reduced precipitation.

drown
Verb

to die or suffocate in a liquid.

engineer
Noun

person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

flood
Verb

to overflow or cover in water or another liquid.

Noun

flat area alongside a stream or river that is subject to flooding.

illness
Noun

disease or sickness.

Noun

bank of a river, raised either naturally or constructed by people.

Noun

large stream of flowing fresh water.

river management
Noun

the art and science of controlling the flow, path, and power of rivers.

Noun

small sediment particles.

typhus
Noun

highly infectious and sometimes deadly disease with symptoms of itching sores and severe headache, caused by lice.

weather pattern
Noun

repeating or predictable changes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as winds, precipitation, and temperatures.