Beijing, July 21 (Reuters) – Large swathes of China’s central Henan province were underwater on Wednesday, with at least a dozen people dead in its capital Zhengzhou after the city was drenched by what weather watchers said was the heaviest rain in 1,000 years.
With more rain forecast across Henan for the next three days, the government of Zhengzhou, a city of over 12 million on the banks of the Yellow River, said 12 people were reported to have died in a flooded subway line, while more than 500 were pulled to safety.
Video on social media on Tuesday showed commuters chest-deep in murky floodwaters on a train in the dark and an underground station turned into a large, churning pool.
“The water reached my chest,” a survivor wrote on social media. “I was really scared, but the most terrifying thing was not the water, but the diminishing air supply in the carriage.”
Due to the rain, the authorities halted bus services, as the vehicles are powered by electricity, said a Zhengzhou resident surnamed Guo, who spent the night at his office.
“That’s why many people took the subway, and the tragedy happened,” Guo told Reuters.
From the evening of Saturday until late Tuesday, 617.1 millimetres (mm) of rain fell in Zhengzhou, about 650 km (400 miles) southwest of Beijing. That’s almost on par with Zhengzhou’s annual average of 640.8 mm.
The amount of rainfall in Zhengzhou witnessed over the three days was one seen only “once in a thousand years”, local media cited meteorologists as saying.
‘FLOOD PREVENTION DIFFICULT’
The lives of millions of people in Henan, a province with a population of around 100 million, have been upended in an unusually active rainy season that has led to the rapid rise of a number of rivers in the vast Yellow River basin.
Many train services across Henan, a major logistics hub in central China, have been suspended. Many highways have also been closed and flights delayed or cancelled.
Roads in a dozen cities have been severely flooded.
“Flood prevention efforts have become very difficult,” President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, addressing the situation in a statement broadcast by state television.
Dozens of reservoirs and dams also breached warning levels.
Local authorities said the rainfall had caused a 20-metre breach in the Yihetan dam in the city of Luoyang west of Zhengzhou, and that the dam “could collapse at any time”.
In Zhengzhou itself, where about 100,000 people have been evacuated, the Guojiazui reservoir had been breached but there was no dam failure yet.
A raft of Chinese companies, insurers and a state-backed bank said they had offered donations and emergency aid to local governments in Henan amounting to 1.935 billion yuan ($299 million).
SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS CUT OFF
Taiwan’s Foxconn, which operates a plant in Zhengzhou assembling iPhones for Apple, said there was no direct impact on the facility.
China’s largest automaker, SAIC Motor, warned of short-term impact on logistics at its plant in the city, while Japan’s Nissan said production at its factory had been suspended.
Schools and hospitals were marooned, and people caught in the floods flocked to shelter in libraries, cinemas and even museums.
“We’ve up to 200 people of all ages seeking temporary shelter,” said a staffer surnamed Wang at the Zhengzhou Science and Technology Museum.
“We’ve provided them with instant noodles and hot water. They spent the night in a huge meeting room.”
After the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou, the city’s largest with more than 7,000 beds, lost all power, officials raced to find transport for about 600 critically ill patients.
The neighbouring province of Hebei issued a storm alert for some cities, including Shijiazhuang, its capital, warning of moderate to heavy rain from Wednesday.