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Floods in China: death toll rises as questions rise over preparedness | China




The official death toll from devastating floods in central China has risen to 33 as the public began asking questions about authorities’ preparedness for the disaster.

Clean-up efforts were under way in Henan Province and the capital Zhongzhou on Thursday after a record rainstorm flooded city streets and subways, damaged dams and reservoirs, knocked down roads, cut off power to at least one hospital and was linked to a massive explosion in a factory in Dengfeng town.

Authorities said 200,000 people were displaced by the floods and more than three million people were affected.

Heavy rain was forecast to continue this week, driven in part by a strengthening typhoon in eastern Taiwan. In Guangdong, southern China, 13 construction workers were killed when they were trapped in a flooded tunnel. Thousands of rescuers were dispatched to help northern Henan, where dozens of counties were hit by floods Wednesday evening and Thursday, with reports of overflowing reservoirs, submerged roads and cars and trucks being washed.

The Henan disaster has prompted public scrutiny over the authorities’ readiness, in particular apparently inaccurate weather forecasts and the decision to keep the subway running during the flood.

Meteorological bodies have referred to the rainstorm, which saw a rainfall of several years in three days as a weather event one in 1,000 years. Precipitation breaks the hourly and daily records of 70 years of data collected.

Residents pass through flood waters in Zhengzhou.
Residents pass through flood waters in Zhengzhou. Photos: Stringer ./Reuter

At least 12 of the deaths occurred on the subway, where about 1,000 people were reportedly trapped in stations and carts after water filled the tunnels. The alarming footage showed people climbing on railings in water with high chests.

Local authorities said heavy rain caused water to collect in the parking lot near Line 5 of the metro, breaking a retaining wall around 6pm and flooding the line, stopping trains between Shakoulu, where at least five deaths are believed to have occurred. and Haitainsi stations.

The Chinese government has ordered local authorities to make immediate improvements to urban flood control and emergency response, including hidden hazards in the rail system.

They need to take emergency measures such as suspending trains, evacuating passengers and closing stations in atypical situations like extremely strong storms, the ministry said in a first statement at least 190 million times on Weibo.

Hawkish state-owned tabloid, Global Times, said it was absolutely impossible to keep Zhengzhou from flooding in such heavy rains but greater mitigation efforts were needed to reduce the loss of life.

Vehicles flooded by flood water in Zhengzhou.
Vehicles flooded by flood water in Zhengzhou. Photos: VCG / China Visual Group / Getty Images

Concerns have been raised about the safety of the metro system which opened its first line in 2013 the decision to keep it running at peak hours when the rain was heaviest, and the transparency of officials. On the Internet, commentators were divided, but included substantive criticism of the response.

Why did you not close the subway in advance when it rained so much, one asked.

I only see shipments from Mr. and Mrs. Hindsight, another said in response to the ministry statement. We could not control the flood, but they should have suspended the operation when multiple alerts were issued.

Zheng, a security officer at Zhengzhou metro, told Southern Weekly on Wednesday that they tried to hold trains so people could return home but were drowned by Tuesday afternoon rain. This is the first time in my life that I have witnessed water flooding at the subway station. I felt hopeless, he said.

The Henan Business Daily reported that staff at a station told a man that all passengers had been evacuated but had to admit it was not true as he started a video call with his wife who was still stranded on a train. She told her husband that the water had almost reached his neck and the passengers were trying to breathe, the report said.

This aerial photo taken on July 21, 2021 shows a damaged bridge after heavy rain that caused major flooding in Gongyi in central Chinas Henan province.  (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR / AFP via Getty Images)
A damaged bridge after heavy rain caused heavy flooding in Gongyi in Chinas Henan province. Photos: AFP / Getty Images

Beijing News also questioned the timing of the subway operation, noting that the network was not completely suspended until 18:00, hours after water began to enter some stations for the first time.

A widely shared WeChat article noted early contradictory statements by local state media, including that no passengers were in danger, while at the same time images later blocked from China’s internet were being distributed with lifeless bodies at Shakoulu station, including state media of the state, Xinhua.

The WeChat article also noted premature statements that the rescue mission was complete as stranded passengers continued to post about their plight. The article which also questioned whether it was a man-made disaster related to the explosion of a dam late Tuesday near Luoyang city was later censored for breaking the rules, according to a Twitter user, Matt Knight, who collected posts online.

Knight cited numerous examples of major changes between several posts by state media and authorities, which highlighted rescue efforts and the actions of the angry community, and those shared by the public.

Public scrutiny has also fallen at the time of warnings from local meteorological services. The provincial weather bureau told state media it had released a report warning of torrential rains coming two days earlier.

The impact of the floods spread beyond the capital.

Zhengzhous Flood Control Headquarters said water storage in the Guojiazui Reservoir was in high risk of dam collapse and the local government ordered evacuations.

A courier passes through a flooded road in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Chinas Henan Province, July 20, 2021. More than 144,660 residents have been affected by torrential rains in central Chinas Henan Province since July 16 and 10,152 have been displaced. safe, the provincial headquarters for flood control and drought relief said on Tuesday.  A total of 16 large and medium-sized reservoirs have seen water levels rise above the alert level as torrential rains hit most of the province on Monday and Tuesday.  Heavy rainfall of China Henan Zhengzhou - July 20, 2021
A courier passes through a flooded road in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Chinas Henan province. Photos: Xinhua / REX / Shutterstock

In Luoyang city, local authorities said the rains had caused a 20-meter collapse in the Yihetan Dam, which could collapse at any time. A Chinas army division was sent to the site to carry out emergency blasts and flood diversion.

At least four people were killed in Gongyi City, about 80km from Zhongzhou, where rains caused floods and landslides.

Some worry that given the scale of the damage, post-disaster reconstruction will be particularly challenging for one of China’s most populous provinces. Zhengzhou alone is home to 12 million people.

Henan Province which is located between Beijing and Shanghai in central China has many cultural sites and is a major base for industry and agriculture. It is traversed by many waterways, many of which connect to the Yellow River, which has a long history of erupting off its shores during periods of intense rainfall.

China routinely experiences floods in the summer months, but rapid urbanization, and the conversion of agricultural land, as well as the worsening climate crisis have exacerbated the impact of such events.

Additional reporting: Jason Lu




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