Death toll rises and thousands flee as floods hit China
At least 25 people have died after days of torrential rain and heavy flooding hit China’s Henan province, bursting the banks of rivers, overwhelming dams and the public transport system, and forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Another seven people are also missing in the provincial capital, Zhengzhou. The provincial authorities issued their highest level of weather warning. A year’s worth of rain – 64cm – fell in three days. The city’s weather bureau said more than 55cm had fallen between 7pm on Monday and 7pm on Tuesday.
About 200,000 people have been moved to shelters, the state media Xinhua reported yesterday, citing local government figures. The rainfall flooded the city’s subway system, collapsed roads, and prompted the suspension of inbound flights.
Yesterday afternoon, officials raised the official death toll to 25 in Henan province, including four in the city of Gongyi after 14 reservoirs overflowed, causing flooding and landslides. They said 1.2 million people had been affected by the floods.
The number of casualties is expected to rise as rescue work continues. Numerous social media posts reported loved ones missing.
Chinese media said such rainfall had not been seen “in the last 1,000 years”. There are concerns that, given the scale of the damage, the post-disaster reconstruction will be particularly challenging for one of the most populous provinces in China.
Across social media, videos showed the severity of the flooding, with hundreds of cars floating down main streets, and crowds forming human chains to rescue people from roads and flooded buildings.
In the subway system in the capital Zhengzhou, where at least 12 of the confirmed deaths are thought to have occurred, waist-high water gushed through the tunnels, submerging platforms and filling carriages.
Other videos showed commuters trapped inside carriages with water up to their chests. “The most terrifying thing was not the water, but the diminishing air supply in the carriage,” one survivor wrote on social media.
Zhengzhou's flood control headquarters said the Guojiazui reservoir was at “major risk” of dam failure and evacuations were being ordered.
In the city of Luoyang, officials said the rainfall had caused a 20-metre breach in the Yihetan dam, which “could collapse at any time”.
Early yesterday, a division of China’s military were sent out to carry out emergency blasting and flood diversion. Other divisions were sent out across the province to fight the floods and carry out rescues, authorities said.
The heavy rain across Henan began on 17 July. On Tuesday, weather agencies issued the highest warning level for the province and Chinese weather forecasts expected further severe downpours.
From Saturday to Tuesday, 3,535 weather stations in Henan, one of China’s most populous provinces with 94 million people, reported rainfall exceeding 5cm; 1,614 registered levels above 10cm and 151 above 25cm, the authorities said.
Hundreds of trapped residents called for help online as flooding cut electricity to their homes. Footage on China’s social media showed the world-renowned Shaolin Temple badly affected.
Floods are common in China’s rainy season, but their impact has worsened over the decades, due in part to China’s rapid urbanisation and the global climate crisis.
Extreme weather events have occurred in many parts of China this summer. Hundreds of thousands of residents in Sichuan province had to be relocated this month owing to floods and landslides. In June, Hotan city, in the far-west region of Xinjiang, had record rainfall.
Liu Junyan, of Greenpeace International, told Chinese media: “Because of the highly concentrated population, infrastructure and economic activity, the exposure and vulnerability of climate hazards are higher in urban areas.
Cities are an important sector of global greenhouse gas emissions, which account for about 70% of the total emissions.”