Rainfall 'not seen in 1,000 years' floods China, at least 100k evacuated

Heavy rainfall across Central China has triggered massive flooding. In an effort to control rising water levels and fatalities, the Chinese military has blasted a dam to release floodwaters and lessen pressure on one of its most heavily populated provinces.

Chinatopix/AP
After immense downpour in the city of Zhengzhou, China, people maneuver through the flood on July 20, 2021. As subways and streets flood, many are being declared missing.

Severe flooding Tuesday in a Chinese provincial capital trapped people in subways and schools, washed away vehicles, and stranded people in their workplaces overnight.

China’s military has blasted a dam to release floodwaters threatening one of its most heavily populated provinces, as the death toll in widespread flooding rose to at least 25. A report in The Washington Post claims more than 1.2 million people have been displaced.

Another seven people were reported missing, provincial officials said at a news conference.

The already drenched city of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, was hit by 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) of rain from 4 to 5 p.m., the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Henan weather agency. 

According to a report in Reuters, From Saturday to Tuesday, 617.1 mm (24.3 inches) of rain fell in Zhengzhou, almost the equivalent of its annual average of 640.8 mm (25.2 inches). The three days of rain matched a level seen only “once in a thousand years,” the Zhengzhou weather bureau said.

The dam operation was carried out late Tuesday night in the city of Luoyang, just as severe flooding overwhelmed Zhengzhou, trapping residents in the subway system and stranding them at schools, apartments, and offices.

The torrent of rain turned streets into rapidly flowing rivers and inundated subways stations and cars. Transport and work have been disrupted throughout the province, with rain turning streets into rapidly flowing rivers, washing away cars, and rising into people’s homes. Videos posted online showed entire neighborhoods covered in waist-deep water and vehicles floating in the muddy mire.

A video posted on Twitter by news site The Paper showed subway passengers standing in chest-high muddy brown water as torrents raged in the tunnel outside.

To the north of Zhengzhou, the famed Shaolin Temple known for its Buddhist monks’ mastery of martial arts was badly hit. Henan province is home to many cultural sites and a major base for industry and agriculture. It is crisscrossed by multiple waterways, many of them linked to the Yellow River, which has a long history of bursting its banks during periods of intensive rainfall.

At least 10 trains carrying about 10,000 passengers were halted, including three for more than 40 hours, according to Caixin, a business news magazine. Sections of 26 highways were closed due to the rain, the Transport Ministry said on its social media account.

A blackout shut down ventilators at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, forcing staff to use hand-pumped airbags to help patients breathe, according to the city’s Communist Party committee. It said more than 600 patients were being transferred to other hospitals.

A woman aboard a subway in a flooded tunnel told her husband the water almost reached her neck and passengers had trouble breathing, the Henan Business Daily newspaper reported.

It said staff at a subway station told her husband all passengers had been evacuated but acknowledged that wasn’t so after he started a video chat with his wife on his cellphone showing she still was aboard.

The precise times and locations of the deaths and disappearances weren’t immediately clear, although the province said more than 100,000 people have been evacuated to safety.

Stranded people were spending the night in their workplaces or checked into hotels.

Wang Guirong, a restaurant manager, said she planned to sleep on the couch in her restaurant after being told there was no power in her neighborhood. The State Grid Zhengzhou Power Supply Co. said a downtown substation was forced to shut down because of the rain.

“I have lived in Zhengzhou all my life and have never seen such a heavy rainstorm as today,” Ms. Wang said.

China experiences regular flooding during the summer, but the growth of cities and conversion of farmland into subdivisions have worsened the impact of such events.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Material from The Washington Post and Reuters was added to this report.

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