Piles of cars were strewn across a central Chinese city on Thursday as horrified residents plucked through the rubble of a historic deluge that claimed at least 33 lives, with more heavy rain threatening surrounding regions.
An unprecedented torrential downpour poured rain into the city of Zhengzhou in just three hours, weather officials said, immediately overwhelming sewers, sending streams of muddy, seething water through streets, road tunnels and the subway system.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the area were affected by the flooding, authorities said, as farmland was flooded and road and rail links were cut.
In the worst-hit Zhengzhou, stark images of the horror in the subway system were relayed in real time via social media, with water rising from passengers’ ankles to their necks during Tuesday’s rush hour.
At least a dozen people died before rescuers could free survivors from carriages.
3/3: More extraordinary scenes from central China’s flooding – commuters on the Zhengzhou subway. There are other videos circulating on WeChat showing people in even worse circumstances – it seems to be a very destructive flood. pic.twitter.com/hCJYq3ANyU
— Bill Birtles (@billbirtles) July 20, 2021
As the water receded – with piles of cars as a monument to its deadly power – residents prepared for another day of inclement weather, taking vehicles to higher elevations and trying to plan trips from the stricken city, where communication and power were still lacking.
Trucks pumped muddy water from the underground tunnels as business owners counted the cost of the deluge and meteorologists issued “red” rain warnings, warning of the threat of new landslides and flooding in surrounding areas.
“I’m waiting for power to be restored, but I think it could be a few more days,” Chen, the owner of a local food and pork sandwich restaurant, told AFP.
“My losses? They’re fine, compared to what happened in the tunnel down there,” he said, pointing to the tunnel where many cars were trapped by flooding on Tuesday — possibly with motorists still inside.
Topography, Typhoon, Climate
Questions centered on how China’s bulging cities could be better prepared for freak weather events like Tuesday’s storm, which experts say is becoming more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.
The city of Anyang, a short drive north of Zhengzhou, issued a red warning on Thursday of heavy downpours after some areas received more than 100mm of rain, forcing schools to close and most workers to stay at home.
Weather experts have dissected the reasons behind Tuesday’s record rains.
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 make landfall in China, winds have “collected a large amount of water vapor from above the sea towards Henan,” providing a source of water for the downpours, Chen said.
The changing climate is also making these kinds of extreme weather events more common as the world continues to warm, with catastrophes happening across the globe.
Henan Province, like much of China, is furrowed by rivers, dams and reservoirs constructed decades ago to control the flow of floods and irrigate the agricultural region.
But the endless urban sprawl puts pressure on the drainage.
State media rebuked suggestions that dams may have played a role in undermining normal water flow, with the Global Times citing experts as saying “construction was not directly linked to flooding.”