Central China’s Henan province swamped after heaviest rain in 1,000 years

People wading through flood waters along a street following heavy rains in Zhengzhou on July 20, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
A resident wearing a rain cover stands on a flooded road in Henan, Zhengzhou province on July 20, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
People wading through flood waters along a street following heavy rains in Zhengzhou on July 20, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP, XINHUA) - Large swathes of China's central Henan province were under water on Wednesday (July 21), 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.

The heavy rain has led to the relocation of nearly 200,000 people to safe zones, state media Xinhua reported, citing the local government.

Dramatic video clips 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," Mr Guo told Reuters.

From the evening of Saturday until late Tuesday, 617.1mm of rain fell in Zhengzhou, about 650km southwest of Beijing. That was almost on a par with Zhengzhou's annual average of 640.8mm.

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.

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.

Mr Xi ordered authorities at all levels to promptly organise flood prevention and disaster relief forces, properly accommodate those affected, strictly prevent secondary disasters, and minimise casualties and property losses.

Dozens of reservoirs and dams also breached warning levels.

Local authorities said the rainfall had caused a 20m breach in the Yihetan dam in Luoyang city west of Zhengzhou, and that the dam "could collapse at any time".

In Zhengzhou, the local flood control headquarters said the city's Guojiazui reservoir had been breached but there was no dam failure yet.

Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn operates a plant on the outskirts of Zhengzhou, next to the city's airport, that assembles iPhones for Apple. It said there was no direct impact on its facility, but had activated an emergency response plan.

"We can confirm that there has been no direct impact on our facility in that location to date," Foxconn said in a statement.

SAIC Motor, China's largest carmaker, said logistics at its Zhengzhou plant would see some short-term impact, while Japan's Nissan said production at its Zhengzhou factory had been temporarily suspended.

Zhengzhou's transportation system remained paralysed, with schools and hospitals cut off by waterlogging. Some children have been trapped inside their kindergartens since Tuesday.

Residents caught in the flood had taken 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."

About 3km away, the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University - the city's largest with over 7,000 beds - has lost all power, and even backup supplies were down.

The hospital was racing to find transport to relocate about 600 critically ill patients.

The heavy rain has flooded the streets of a dozen cities and trapping subway passengers waist-high in floodwaters.

Thousands of rescue workers including soldiers and firefighters have been dispatched to carry out rescue work.

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 (S$409 million).

The flooding came shortly after key Chinese cities warned that homes and factories face new power outages as historic demand and supply shortages strain energy grids. Eleven provinces including eastern manufacturing hubs and landlocked central China reported record demand and peak-load surges last week, amid hot weather.

In Ruzhou, a city south-west of Zhengzhou, streets have been turned into torrents, sweeping away cars and other vehicles, footage on social media showed.

A rising Yi River also threatened to hit the Longmen Grottoes, a Unesco World Heritage site featuring millennium-old Buddhist statues etched into limestone cliffs near the city of Luoyang.

Like the Longmen Grottoes, the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng city, famous in the West for its martial arts, has been temporarily shut.

Also in Dengfeng, an aluminium alloy plant exploded on Tuesday as water from a river surged into the factory.

At least 31 large and medium-sized reservoirs in the province have exceeded their warning levels.

From Saturday to Tuesday, 3,535 weather stations in Henan saw rainfall exceed 50mm, of which 1,614 registered levels above 100mm and 151 above 250mm.

The highest was in Lushan city, which saw 498mm of rain, according to the provincial weather bureau.

"This is the heaviest rain since I was born, with so many familiar places flooded," said an Internet user in the inundated city of Gongyi on Chinese social media.

Rain is forecast to stop by Thursday.

Floods are common during China's rainy season, which causes annual chaos and washes away roads, crops and houses.

But the threat has worsened over the decades, due in part to widespread construction of dams and levees that have cut connections between the river and adjacent lakes and disrupted floodplains that had helped absorb the summer surge.

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