Flood toll rises in central China, as tens of thousands evacuated

The weather bureau raises a storm alert for four cities in the north of Henan to the highest level as record-breaking rain triggers heavy floods.

A traffic police officer guides residents to cross a flooded road with a rope during heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, July 20, 2021 [China Daily via Reuters]

At least 33 people have been confirmed dead, with eight missing, in record-breaking floods in central China that have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes, state media reported.

The provincial weather bureau on Thursday raised the storm alert to red for four cities in the north of Henan – Xinxiang, Anyang, Hebi and Jiaozuo – the highest tier of a four-step colour-coded weather warning system, as rain spread northwards from Zhengzhou, the hard-hit provincial capital, about 650km (400 miles) southwest of Beijing.

Twelve of the deceased were the victims of the submerged Zhengzhou’s underground metro system, while others drowned when an underpass was inundated. Eight people are listed as missing across the province.

More than 73,000 people were being evacuated from Anyang, on Henan’s border with Hebei province, after the city was swamped by more than 600mm (24 inches) of rainfall since Monday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinxiang, a small city north of Zhengzhou, recorded 812mm (32 inches) of rain between Tuesday and Thursday, shattering local meteorological records, Xinhua reported. Seven medium-sized reservoirs in the city had overflowed, affecting scores of nearby villages and towns.

As of late Wednesday, more than 470,000 people and more than 55,000 hectares (135,910 acres) of crops have been affected by the Xinxiang downpours, Xinhua said, adding the local government had deployed a search and rescue team with more than 76,000 personnel.

In neighbouring Hebei, two people were killed when a tornado struck the city of Baoding.

Flooded, lightless cabins

The fatal flooding of the Zhengzhou subway prompted an order for local authorities to immediately improve urban transit flood controls and emergency responses.

Media images showed commuters immersed in chest-deep waters in carriages that had been plunged into darkness. One underground station was reduced to a large churning pool of water.

The Ministry of Transport said local authorities must immediately re-examine and rectify all hidden risks on rail transport systems.

“They must take emergency measures such as suspending trains, evacuating passengers, and closing stations in atypical situations such as excessively intense storms,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

The fatal flooding of the Zhengzhou subway prompted the government to order local authorities to immediately improve urban transit flood controls and emergency responses [China Daily via Reuters]

Some 617.1mm (24.3 inches) of rain fell in Zhengzhou from Saturday to Tuesday, almost the equivalent of the city’s annual average of 640.8mm (25.2 inches).

Zhang Mingying, from the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, said the heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou had overwhelmed the capability of its drainage infrastructure making the flood “unavoidable”, the Global Times reported.

Public scrutiny has also fallen on the timeliness of weather bulletins provided by local meteorological services.

The provincial weather bureau told state media it had issued a report warning of the coming torrential rains two days in advance.

Since Monday evening, meteorological departments from the provincial down to the county level have sent out 120 million text messages to mobile phone users warning them of the storms, the Henan weather bureau said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies