Henan authorities said on Thursday that torrential rains have ravaged Henan province since last weekend, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and causing economic losses of 1.22 billion yuan (about $190 million).
Home to 99 million residents, Henan is one of China’s most populous and poorest provinces, with a large number of farms and factories.
Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of 12 million people, is one of the worst-affected areas, with 12 people dying after being stranded on a flooded subway line for hours. But many small towns and villages have also been badly devastated. With more rain predicted in the region, the death toll is expected to rise as rescue operations continue.
In Gonghai, a county-level city west of Zhengzhou, at least four people were killed as floodwaters flooded the streets. The heavy rains led to massive house collapses and landslides, hampering rescue operations.
‘On the verge of collapse’
One of the most horrifying scenes of the disaster took place underground on Line 5 of the Zhengzhou subway.
During Tuesday evening’s rush hour, hundreds of commuters were trapped in rising water as filthy streams entered the tunnel and seeped into trains. Some posted videos and pleaded for help online. Dramatic videos showing people clinging to roof handles to keep their heads above rising water shook the nation and made headlines around the world. In another video, several bodies can be seen lying lifeless on stage as rescuers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on others.
More than 500 passengers were evacuated from the submerged metro line, killing 12 and injuring five others, officials said.
On social media and in interviews with Chinese media, some survivors shared tragic details of how the disaster unfolded on the subway.
By the time they all returned to the subway cars, their waists were full of water. It continued to grow as more water filled the tunnel and seeped through the gaps between the doors of the subway car.
He wrote, ‘We tried to stand on the seats as much as we could, but still in the end the water reached our chest. “I was really scared, but the most terrifying thing was not the water, but the receding air in the car – as many people were having trouble breathing.”
He overheard another woman on the phone giving her bank account details to her family, and wondered if she should do the same. She sent a message to her mother, saying she “probably won’t come.” When her mother called back, she was suddenly lost for words. She told him she was still waiting for rescue and hung up the phone, and spent the next two and a half hours “on the verge of a breakdown”.
Eventually, she fainted due to lack of oxygen, but was later woken up by the vibrations of her phone. It was her mother’s call that her rescue was on the way. At the same time, he heard footsteps above the train, and firefighters began breaking windows to let in fresh air. He heard more rescuers coming, and one after another, they were let out—those who fainted were sent out first, followed by the women, he wrote. His post was later removed. It was unclear why, or by whom – and CNN has been unable to verify his account.
Some have tried calling emergency lines and seeking help from family and friends, but to no avail. He told that by 9 o’clock in the night the water had reached his throat inside the train. Among the crowd were children, pregnant women and the elderly, and some of those around her trembled, retreated and gasped for air.
“I was so scared at the time. When I saw the water rising above our heads outside the window, I was preparing myself to accept that I would never be able to get out,” she said.
She said that her phone only had 30% battery left, she closed all other apps on her device and sent messages to her relatives and friends on WeChat, but she didn’t dare to tell her parents, she said. Before 9 pm, she kept asking them to contact the rescue team. But later, she was mainly arranging to take care of things after people died.
‘Once in a thousand years’?
According to an official of the provincial meteorological center, more heavy rain was predicted on Thursday, before the rain was expected to subside on Friday.
Although flooding during the summer months is an annual occurrence in parts of China, recent record-breaking rains have worried scientists and officials, raising questions about whether the country is fueled by more extreme and unpredictable climate change. Ready to deal with the weather.
“Regions undergoing rapid urbanization are facing an enormous increase in risk,” said Liu Junyan, leader of the climate and energy project for Greenpeace in Beijing, in a recent press statement. Released a report mapping the increased risk from weather. .
“Building resilient communities means first identifying at-risk groups, whether based on location, income, welfare, housing, employment, medical history or other factors,” Liu said.
Henan officials said the intensity of the rain was unprecedented, with more than 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) of rain falling in Zhengzhou in an hour on Tuesday afternoon – a third of the city’s annual rainfall recorded last year.