Torrential rains have hit Henan province since last weekend, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and causing 1.22 billion yuan (about $ 190 million) in economic damage, Henan authorities said on Thursday.
Home to 99 million people, Henan is one of China’s most populous and poorest provinces, with many agricultural lands and factories.
Zhengzhou, the provincial capital with 12 million people, is one of the hardest hit areas, with 12 killed after being trapped for hours on a flooded subway line. But many smaller towns and villages have also been badly destroyed. With more rain forecasts for the region, the death toll is expected to rise as rescue work continues.
In Gongyi, a county-level city west of Zhengzhou, at least four people were killed as floodwaters flooded the streets. Heavy rains also caused widespread house collapses and landslides, hampering rescue operations.
‘On the verge of collapse’
One of the most horrific scenes from the disaster occurred underground on Line 5 of Zhengzhou Metro.
During rush hour Tuesday evening, hundreds of passengers were trapped in rising water as dark streams plunged into the tunnel and penetrated the carriages. Some posted videos and prayed for help online. Dramatic videos showing people caught behind ceiling gloves to keep their heads above rising waters shocked the nation and made headlines around the world. In another video, some bodies could be seen lying lifeless on the platform, while rescue teams perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on others.
Authorities said more than 500 passengers were evacuated from the flooded subway line, with 12 killed and five others injured.
On social media and in interviews with Chinese media, some survivors shared heartbreaking accounts of how the subway disaster unfolded.
By the time everyone was back on the subway cars, the water was already at the waist. It kept rising as more water filled the tunnel and seeped through the gaps between subway car doors.
“We tried to stay in the seats as much as we could, but even then the water reached our chests at the bottom,” she wrote. “I was really scared, but the scariest thing was not the water, but the air that was shrinking in the wheelchair – as many seemed to have trouble breathing.”
She overheard another woman giving her family bank account details over the phone and wondering if she should do the same. She sent a message to her mother, telling her “she could not do it”. When her mother called again, she suddenly lost her words. She told her she was still waiting for rescue and hung up the phone, and spent the next two and a half hours “on the verge of breaking down”.
Eventually, she fainted due to lack of oxygen, but later woke up to the vibrations of her phone. It was a phone call from her mother saying her rescue was on the way. At that moment, she heard footsteps on top of the train and firefighters began opening windows to let in fresh air. She heard that more rescuers were arriving and one after another, they were left out – those who fainted were sent first, followed by the women, she wrote. Her post was deleted later. It was not clear why, or by whom – and CNN was unable to verify its account.
Some tried to call the emergency lines and asked family and friends for help, but to no avail. By 9 p.m., water inside the train had reached her throat, she said. There were children, pregnant women, and the elderly in the crowd, and some people around her began to tremble, withdraw, and gasp for air.
“I was really terrified at the time. When I saw the water rising above our heads outside the window, I was preparing to admit that I would never be able to get out,” she said.
With only 30% of the battery left on her phone, she shut down all other apps on her device and sent messages to her relatives and friends on Wechat, but she dared not tell her parents, she said. she. Prior to 9 p.m., she was constantly asked to contact rescue teams. But then, she was mostly arranging for people to take care of things after she died.
‘Once in a thousand years’?
The heaviest rains were forecast Thursday, before they were expected to fall on Friday, according to an official at the provincial meteorological station.
Henan authorities said the intensity of the rain was unprecedented, with more than 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) of rain falling in Zhengzhou at one o’clock on Tuesday afternoon – accounting for one-third of the city’s annual rainfall recorded last year.
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