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Future Hype by Bob Seidensticker

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10 Playing with Matches

EXTRAORDINARY RAINS HIT HENAN PROVINCE in central China in August 1975. Dams built to handle a flood expected no more than once every five hundred years collapsed, increasing the load on downstream dams. In all, sixty-two dams failed. A flood several miles wide and racing at thirty miles per hour surged out of its river valley and across the plains, killing 85,000 people. Another 100,000 died in the aftermath due to unsafe water and famine, and a total of eleven million people were affected.

But this pales compared to China’s 1931 Huang He (Yellow River) disaster. This river frequently floods, and levees have for centuries tried to keep it within its banks. Because it gradually fills its riverbed with the silt that ...

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