The New Zealand Herald

‘Please save us!’ Grim scenes in China as flood inundates subway


The subway train in Zhengzhou, a city of 5 million in central China, was approachin­g its next station when the floodwater­s began to rise ominously on the tracks. The passengers crowded forward as the water rose, submerging the cars at the rear first.

As the water reached their waists, then chests, finally their necks, the passengers called emergency services or relatives. Some cried. Others retched or fainted. After two hours, it became difficult to breathe in the congested air that remained in the cars.

Ding Xiaopei, a radio host, was afraid to call her children, 13 and 4. What could she say? She posted a video that she thought might be her last message. “The water outside has reached this position,” she said, it having reached chest level, “and my mobile phone will soon run out of power.”

“Please save us!” she wrote. The flood that inundated Line 5 of Zhengzhou’s subway on Wednesday added to the grim global toll extreme weather has taken already this year, with scorching heat in the Pacific Northwest, forest fires in Siberia, and flooding in Germany and Belgium. Although flooding is common in China, researcher­s have attributed the extreme weather sweeping the planet to the consequenc­es of climate change.

At least 25 died in and around Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, including 12 people in the subway, according to officials who briefed journalist­s yesterday. Days of torrential rain that began on Monday created scenes of destructio­n that suggested the death toll could rise much higher.

Aerial photograph­s showed scores of cars in Zhengzhou all but submerged, the fate of their drivers and passengers unknown. Videos circulatin­g online showed cars and even people being swept away in churning torrents.

The First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, one of the country’s largest, filled with floodwater, losing electricit­y and jeopardisi­ng critically ill patients. The subway remained closed yesterday.

With the rain still falling, nearly 10,000 people were trapped aboard passenger trains in Henan, unable to move because water covered the tracks, the news magazine Caixin reported. At least one carrying 735 people came to a stop near Zhengzhou and, after more than 40 hours, had run out of food and water. By the afternoon, some passengers were able to leave, while railway workers brought supplies to those still waiting for service to resume.

In a sign of the severity of the disaster, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, ordered the authoritie­s to give top priority to people’s safety, Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said in a report that described “heavy casualties and property losses” without providing specific figures. Xi called the flooding “very severe” and warned that some dams had been damaged even as rivers exceeded alert levels.

Xi’s directive mobilised soldiers from the Central Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army to help with rescue efforts and to shore up the Yihetan Dam near the city of Luoyang, about 120km upstream from Zhengzhou, after it suffered a 20m breach.

The rain in the area was the heaviest on record in the city, according to China’s state television network, CCTV. At one point, the city saw nearly 23cm of rain in one hour. In one day, the region recorded roughly the average annual rainfall.

Flooding was reported in several cities and towns, where people posted pleas for help on WeChat and Weibo, two of the country’s biggest social networks. In the city of Gongyi, at least 20,000 people were displaced by floodwater­s that inundated scores of homes, while mudslides washed away roads and cut off some villages. At least four people were killed in that area.

Across the province, more than 1 million people have been affected by the floods, the officials said, though they said only seven people were reported missing yesterday.

The government often goes to great lengths to manage informatio­n about disasters, sensitive about its history of under-reporting casualties. It is quick to limit news coverage and censor blogs and social media sites to mute public dissatisfa­ction with prevention and rescue efforts.

Some people on Chinese chat platforms and social media sites have raised questions about whether official news outlets in Zhengzhou and Henan province initially downplayed the flood.

When storms struck Beijing recently, the authoritie­s warned people to stay home, but there was no order to shut businesses or schools in Zhengzhou ahead of Wednesday’s heavy rain.

In times of disaster, the country’s state news media often focuses on the efforts of rescue workers, including the military, while playing down the causes of disasters and their damage. A journalism professor, Zhan Jiang, posted a note on Weibo, the social media platform, complainin­g that a television station in Henan province continued to show its regular programmin­g instead of providing public safety informatio­n.

 ?? Photo / AP ?? Zhengzhou saw nearly 23cm of rain in one hour. The region recorded roughly the average annual rainfall in one day.
Photo / AP Zhengzhou saw nearly 23cm of rain in one hour. The region recorded roughly the average annual rainfall in one day.
 ??  ?? At least 12 people died when floodwater inundated a subway train in Zhengzhou, China.
At least 12 people died when floodwater inundated a subway train in Zhengzhou, China.

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