Death toll from Henan floods rises to 71, more rain expected

A man bows as people place flowers in front of a subway station in memory of flood victims in Zhengzhou, China's central Henan province on July 27, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - The death toll from floods in central China's Henan province rose to 71 on Tuesday (July 27) as a tribute at a subway where 14 people died was sealed off in a sign of sensitivity to public criticism of the government's handling of the disaster.

Torrential downpours dumped a year's rain in just three days last week on the hardest-hit city of Zhengzhou, flooding subway cars and trapping more than 500 commuters during rush hour last Tuesday.

Images of passengers inundated by shoulder-height water went viral on Chinese social media.

The city government announced on Tuesday the names of those who perished in the subway, a rare attempt at transparency after people started leaving flowers at the entrance to the station.

"Extreme rains caused severe water logging in parts of subway line 5, and the retaining walls that protected the subway lines crumbled," the government statement said.

Subway guards eventually blocked access to the floral tribute, but a video published by state-run West China Metropolis Daily on Tuesday showed a group of people pushing aside the yellow barricades on Monday night, chanting "let the spirits of those who died come back home!"

One of the victims, identified in the official list by his last name Sha, was days short of his 34th birthday.

"Who would have thought that you were only one stop away from home, but you will never come back again," his wife wrote on China's Twitter-like Weibo.

Sha's wife, who declined to give her name, told Jimu news that she was suing the metro operator for negligence.

Foreign journalists covering the floods have been harassed online and on the ground, as sensitivity towards any negative portrayal of China mounts.

Reporters from AFP were forced to delete footage by hostile residents and surrounded by dozens of men while reporting on a submerged traffic tunnel in Zhengzhou.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China also issued a statement on Tuesday (July 27), noting how Henan's Communist Youth League had asked its 1.6 million followers on Chinese social media site Weibo to report the whereabouts of BBC Shanghai reporter Robin Brant, after he became the target of viral online harassment.

"The FCCC is disappointed and dismayed at the growing hostility against foreign media in China," it said.

Heavy downpours that began July 17 have affected almost 13 million people, damaged nearly 9,000 homes and caused economic losses in Henan estimated at 13.9 billion yuan (S$2.9 billion).

Forecasters said on Tuesday that more heavy rain is expected as the remnants of Typhoon In-Fa pass through the area.

Cities still reeling from the last week's floods, including Xinxiang, Hebi and Anyang, are likely to see the heaviest downpours from Tuesday to Thursday, Henan's meteorological observatory said in a statement.

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