Floods in China: Henan loss of life toll rises as passengers recount the horror of the subway floods in Zhengzhou


At least 33 people have died in central China and eight remain missing as authorities intensified rescue and recovery efforts after devastating floods that flooded neighborhoods, trapped subway passengers, caused landslides, and flooded dams and rivers.

Torrential rains have struck Henan Province since last weekend, displacing hundreds of thousands and causing 1.22 billion yuan (about $ 190 million) in economic damage, Henan authorities said Thursday.

With a population of 99 million, Henan is one of the most populous and poorest provinces in China with large areas of arable land and factories.

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A damaged bridge after heavy rains that caused severe flooding in Gongyi in central China’s Henan Province on July 21, 2021

Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of 12 million people, is one of the hardest hit areas, with 12 people killed after being trapped in a flooded subway line for hours. But many smaller towns and villages were also badly devastated. With more rain forecast for the region, the death toll is expected to rise as rescue work continues.

In Gongyi, an independent city west of Zhengzhou, at least four people were killed when gushing tides swept the streets. Heavy rains also resulted in widespread house collapses and landslides, which hampered rescue operations.

In another city, Xinxiang, rivers have swelled past warning levels and seven reservoirs have overflowed, affecting 58 counties and 470,000 people, according to the state-run People’s Daily.

The severity of the flood was captured through numerous videos shared on Chinese social media showing people and cars being washed away by billowing torrents. On Thursday, stranded residents continued to seek help on Wechat and Weibo, the country’s two largest social media platforms, with some sharing photos and information of their missing family members.

One of the most terrifying scenes of the disaster occurred underground on Line 5 of the Zhengzhou Subway.

During Tuesday evening rush hour, hundreds of commuters were trapped in rising water as cloudy currents poured into the tunnel and seeped into wagons. Some have posted videos and asked for help online. Dramatic videos of people clinging to ceiling handles to keep their heads above rising water shocked the nation and made headlines around the world. In another video, several bodies were seen lifeless on the platform while rescuers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on others.

Authorities said more than 500 passengers were evacuated from the flooded metro line, with 12 killed and five others injured.

On social media and in interviews with Chinese media, some survivors shared harrowing accounts of how the disaster played out in the subway.

In a post on the microblogging site Weibo, a woman said that water seeped into the subway shortly after it came to a stop between stations. Subway workers had initially instructed passengers to disembark the train and evacuate through the tunnel, but they were soon to turn back because there was too much flood ahead.

A flooded subway station in Zhengzhou, China's Henan Province, after torrential rains on July 21.


A flooded subway station in Zhengzhou, China’s Henan Province, after torrential rains on July 21.

When they had all returned to the subway cars, the water was already on their hips. It kept rising as more and more water filled the tunnel and seeped through the gaps between the doors of the subway cars.

“We tried our best to stand on the seats, but even then we got the water in the chest,” she wrote. “I was really scared, but the most terrible thing wasn’t the water, it was the dwindling air in the carriage – as many seem to have difficulty breathing.”

Over the phone, she heard another woman give her family her bank account details and wondered if she should do the same. She sent her mother a message telling her that she might not make it. When her mother called back, she suddenly had no words. She told her she was still waiting to be rescued, hung up and spent the next two and a half hours “on the verge of collapse”.

She eventually passed out from lack of oxygen, but was later awakened by the vibration of her phone. It was a phone call from her mother telling her that her rescue was on the way. At that moment she heard footsteps on the train and firefighters opened the windows to let in fresh air. She heard more rescuers arrive, and one by one they were released – those who passed out were sent first, followed by women, she wrote. Your post was later deleted. It wasn’t clear why or by whom – and CNN couldn’t verify their account.

A heavy downpour in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan Province on July 20, 2021.

yuanxiaoqiang / Chinatopix / AP

A heavy downpour in Zhengzhou, central China’s Henan Province on July 20, 2021.

Another woman told the state-run China Youth Daily that she could not cry anymore when she saw water enter the train. Several others were crying around them. But people comforted each other, and gradually most of them decided to keep quiet in order to save energy.

Some tried to call emergency numbers and asked family and friends for help, but to no avail. At 9 p.m., the water on the train got down their throats, she said. There were children, pregnant women, and the elderly in the crowd, and some people around them began to shiver, choke, and gasp.

“I was really scared back then. When I saw the water rise over our heads in front of the window, I prepared to accept that I would never come out again, ”she said.

With only 30% of the battery left on her phone, she closed all other apps on her device and sent messages to her relatives and friends on Wechat, but didn’t dare tell her parents, she said. Before 9 p.m. she kept asking them to contact the rescuers. But after that, she mainly made arrangements so that people could take care of things after she died.

Stories of heroism have also surfaced, with a widespread video showing a man who was later identified by state media as Yang Junkui, a former special forces soldier who repeatedly dived into the waters to save five people from some underwater in their cars. “I practiced in the army,” Yang told Xinhua. “My thoughts are on saving lives and I turn my face to save lives.”

State media also broadcast footage showing rescue workers rescuing a baby trapped under the rubble of a collapsed house in Xingyang City. The baby, who was trapped for 24 hours before being rescued, according to state media, has been rushed to hospital for treatment and is reportedly in stable condition. State media reported that the baby’s mother was later found dead.

01:21 – Source: CNN

See the aftermath of the devastating floods in China

At a press conference on Wednesday evening, officials observed a minute’s silence for the flood victims. According to officials, more than 6,000 firefighters and 2,000 members of the military and paramilitary forces were deployed in the disaster areas.

More heavy rains were forecast for Thursday before subsiding on Friday, according to an official at the province’s meteorological station.

Although flooding occurs annually in parts of China during the summer months, the recent record rainfall has alarmed scientists and officials, raising the question of whether the country is ready to deal with more extreme and unpredictable weather conditions exacerbated by climate change.

“Areas that are subject to rapid urbanization are facing a steep increase in risk,” said Liu Junyan, Greenpeace’s climate and energy project leader in Beijing, in a recent press release accompanying the publication of a report highlighting the growing risk shows extreme weather conditions in China’s major cities.

The heavy flooding flooded streets and swept cars away.


The heavy flooding flooded streets and swept cars away.

“Building resilient communities means identifying risk groups first, whether based on location, income, welfare, housing, employment, medical history, or other factors,” Liu added.

Henan authorities said the intensity of the rain was unprecedented, with more than 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) of raindrops falling on Zhengzhou in an hour on Tuesday afternoon – accounting for a third of the city’s annual rainfall last year.

The Zhengzhou Meteorological Station has described the amount of precipitation as “once in a thousand years”. The Henan Water Resources Department, meanwhile, has named the rainfall in parts of the province “once in 5,000 years.”

However, a senior meteorologist protested against such descriptions at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday evening. Chen Tao, chief forecaster at the National Meteorological Center, said it was difficult for meteorologists to draw such a conclusion without reliable long-term data because China’s rainfall records only date back to 1951, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

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