Piles of cars were strewn across a central Chinese city on Thursday as shocked residents picked up debris from a historic deluge that claimed at least 33 lives, with heavy rains threatening surrounding regions.
An unprecedented rainstorm hit a year of rain in just three hours in the city of Zhengzhou, weather officials say, immediately overwhelming sewage and sending streams of muddy, swirling water through streets, road tunnels and the subway system.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the surrounding area have been affected by the flood, authorities said, as farmland was flooded and road and rail links were cut off.
In the worst-hit Zhengzhou, gloomy images of the horror of the subway system were conveyed in real time via social media, showing that the water rises during Tuesday’s rush hour from passengers’ ankles to their throats.
At least a dozen people died before rescuers were able to cut survivors free from carriages.
3/3: More extraordinary scenes from the floods in central China – commuters on the Zhengzhou subway. There are other videos circulating on WeChat that show people in even worse trouble – seems to be very destructive floods. pic.twitter.com/hCJYq3ANyU
– Bill Birtles (@billbirtles) July 20, 2021
As the water receded – with mounds of cars a monument to its deadly power – residents prepared for another day of bad weather, moving vehicles to higher ground and trying to plan trips from the affected city, where communication and power were still uneven.
Trucks pumped muddy water from their underground tunnels as business owners counted the cost of torrents and meteorologists issued “red” rain warnings, warning of the threat of new landslides and floods in the surrounding areas.
“I’m waiting for the power to be restored, but I think it could take several more days,” Chen, the owner of a local food and pork sandwich restaurant, told AFP.
“My losses? They are okay, compared to what happened in the tunnel there, he said and went towards the tunnel where floods caught many cars on Tuesday – possibly with motorists still inside.
Topography, typhoon, climate
Questions were directed at how China’s bulging cities could be better prepared for freak weather events such as Tuesday’s storm, which experts say are happening with increasing frequency and intensity due to climate change.
Anyang City, a short trip north of Zhengzhou, issued a red warning on Thursday for heavy rain showers after some areas received over 100 mm of rain, ordering schools to close and most workers to stay at home.
Weather experts dissected the causes of Tuesday’s record rain.
Chen Tao, chief forecaster for the National Meteorological Center (NMC), said a mix of Henan’s topography and Typhoon In-Fa favored the rain.
Although the typhoon did not land in China, under the influence of winds, “a large amount of water vapor collected from above the sea towards Henan,” which provided a source of water for the rain, Chen said.
The changing climate also makes this type of extreme weather event more common as the world continues to warm up, with disasters seen around the world.
Henan Province is very similar to China by rivers, dams and reservoirs that many were built decades ago to handle the flow of flood waters and irrigate the agricultural region.
But endless urban sprawl presses drainage.
State media reprimanded proposals such as dams may have played a role in undermining the normal flow of water, with the Global Times quoting experts as saying “construction had no direct link to flooding”.