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China Needs ‘Smart’ Manholes To Stop People From Dying Whenever It Rains

REUTERS/Donald Chan

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Manholes in China have long been death traps, especially when it rains, but the country is trying out new, more intelligent manholes to curb the problem.

Shanghai is piloting a program in which manholes are equipped with sensors to prevent people from falling in because the covers were stolen, intentionally set aside, or washed away by flood waters, the China Daily reported Thursday.

If a manhole cover is tilted or removed, the management company will be notified immediately.

Back around the turn of the century, China had a big problem with manhole cover thieves, who would sell the covers as scrap metal. In the latter half of 2003, there were at least eight reported incidents of people falling into open manholes and disappearing.

China cracked down on the thieves, reducing the number of thefts. Careless workers, however, continued to leave uncovered manholes unattended. Common citizens would also occasionally remove the covers for drainage purposes and then forget about them.

A young woman was sucked into a manhole during a severe flood in Beijing in 2012. Fortunately, she was rescued, but many similar stories report more tragic endings. That same year, a six-year-old child perished in a open drain in Wuhan.

A 21-year-old college student named Yang Lijun fell into an open manhole during a heavy rainstorm in Changsha in March, 2013. Her body was discovered in a river a couple months later. In May that same year, a two-year-old boy named Fei Fei fell into an open manhole and drowned.

These deaths led China to install safety nets in manholes. The program was piloted in Shanghai. Still, accidents have continued.

A four-year-old boy died in an open manhole in Shanghai in November 2014. A two-year-old toddler drowned in a Shenzhen manhole one month later.

In one strange situation dating back to 2014, a man used a manhole as a tiger trap for his girlfriend. She was trapped inside the manhole for 60 hours before anyone knew she was there. Drain sensors might have led to a more expedient rescue.

An 11-year-old girl fell into a manhole during an intense rainstorm Sept. 28 in Zhejiang Province. Her body turned up 12 days later. As it turns out, her neighbor removed the cover. A few days earlier, a man in Hainan died in an open manhole.

Over the years, many Chinese people were either injured or killed by poorly-managed manholes. The new sensors will hopefully reduce deaths and ensure public safety. The new sensors were only tested on a few streets, but they are economical and could easily be installed across large areas if they prove successful.

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