Death toll in China floods climbs to 33 as rains spread and more cities call for help

Updated: July 22nd, 2021 04:40 PM IST

Death toll in China floods climbs to 33 as rains spread and more cities call for help

Death toll in China floods climbs to 33 as rains spread and more cities call for help Photo

The death toll from torrential rains lashing China’s central Henan province rose to 33 on Thursday, local officials said, with at least eight people still missing and 3 million affected.

As rainfall abated in the hard-hit city of Zhengzhou, where at least 12 died in submerged subway cars, state meteorologists warned that precipitation is likely to intensify in other parts of Henan and in the neighboring province of Hebei.

Desperate appeals for help mounted in the smaller towns and cities surrounding Zhengzhou, with many saying that embankments protecting residents from the floods were barely holding.

“The most, most crucial thing is that we don’t have food at the moment. We haven’t eaten since the morning,” said Li Xiqin, chief of the Gongji Hospital of Huixian city, where flooding has left her stranded on the hospital premises with 380 nursing home residents, 150 patients and 150 staff members.

She shared videos of the scene, including one showing employees wheeling bed-bound patients through muddy waters while medical supplies floated by. In another video, about a dozen staff members are shown pushing down a brick wall on the west side of the hospital campus to let water escape.

“Water, electricity and gas have all stopped,” Li said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “We’ve contacted people for materials, but we don’t know when they will arrive.”

Central China, where multiple tributaries of the Yellow River crisscross and monsoon rains are exceptionally heavy, has long been subject to flooding. But the rainfall that hit low-lying Zhengzhou on Tuesday was the heaviest on record in the country, with nearly eight inches of precipitation between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. More than 500 commuters in the city’s subways were trapped as water poured into underground tunnels, officials said Thursday. Most were rescued.

China’s Central Meteorological Observatory said the heavy rain is likely to continue at least until Friday morning, with storm clouds moving to the northern and western regions of Henan, and the southern tip of Hebei province.

On Wednesday, Xinxiang, a city of 5 million that includes Huixian, reported a two-hour rainfall rivaling the deluge in Zhengzhou, local news reported. A train that was stranded in Zhengzhou for 40 hours earlier this week found itself stuck again on Thursday in Xinxiang.

Food and water supplies for the train’s hundreds of passengers were running low, local news agencies said. In Anyang, another city in Henan, officials on Thursday halted all public transportation, vacated underground garages and told residents not to leave their homes unless it was absolutely necessary.

“Please pay attention to Xinxiang, Weihui and Anyang,” one user pleaded on the microblogging site Weibo. “Villages are being drowned; mudslides are starting and there are already too many people in need of help at collapsed roads.”

“In the small city of Weihui, it’s been raining for three days already,” said another user. “Some villages have been relying entirely on local residents without any outside support!”

The state-owned tabloid Global Times said it was “absolutely impossible to keep Zhengzhou from flooding” and that Henan’s response “will not fail to meet public expectations.”

But a blog post shared widely on the messaging service WeChat alleged that state-backed organizations initially attempted to downplay the tragedy, including a local Henan news agency that said Zhengzhou’s subway passengers had been safely evacuated even as photos and videos of casualties circulated on social media.

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