At least 25 people have been killed and large swaths of China’s central Henan province were under water Wednesday, regional authorities said, after what some experts said was the region’s heaviest rainfall in 1,000 years.
About 1.2 million people have been affected by the unfolding natural disaster, said Xu Zhong, a deputy director in the Henan local government responsible for flood and management. Seven people are missing, Xu said at a news conference.
Earlier, the Henan Information Office said four people died in Gongyi, a city by the banks of the Yellow River, adding to the 12 people who died when they were trapped in a subway train in Henan’s capital, Zhengzhou, on Tuesday. Both cities suffered widespread collapses of homes and structures due to the rains.
Details have yet to be released about the locations, timing and circumstances of all of the deaths.
Social media video Tuesday showed commuters chest-deep in murky floodwaters on a train in the dark, and an underground station turned into a large, churning pool.
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“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.”
Because of the rain, the authorities halted bus service, 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.
More rain is forecast across Henan for the next three days, and the People’s Liberation Army has dispatched more than 3,000 soldiers and other personnel to help with search and rescue operations.
From Saturday to Tuesday, 24 inches of rain fell in Zhengzhou, almost equal to its annual average of 25 inches.
In what appeared to be an attempt to address concerns that not enough was done to prepare for the predicted rainfall, a local government watchdog, the Henan Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection, warned officials that “late reporting, concealing or omitting important flood and disaster information are strictly forbidden,” the state-run broadcaster CGTN reported.
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 rapid rises in a number of rivers in the vast Yellow River basin.
“Flood prevention efforts have become very difficult,” President Xi Jinping said Wednesday, addressing the situation in a statement broadcast by state television.
Local authorities said that the rain caused a 20-yard breach in the Yihetan dam in Luoyang, west of Zhengzhou, and that the dam “could collapse at any time.”
About 100,000 people in the city have been evacuated to safe zones.
A raft of Chinese companies and 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).
Zhengzhou’s transportation system remained paralyzed, with schools and hospitals cut off by water.
Residents took shelter in libraries, cinemas and even museums.
“We’ve up to 200 people of all ages seeking temporary shelter,” a staffer surnamed Wang at the Zhengzhou Science and Technology Museum told Reuters. “We’ve provided them with instant noodles and hot water. They spent the night in a huge meeting room.”
Less than 2 miles away, First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University — the city’s largest, with over 7,000 beds — lost all power, Reuters reported. Even backup supplies were down.
The hospital was racing to find transportation to move about 600 critically ill patients.
Meanwhile, Hebei province, which shares a border with Henan, issued a storm alert for some cities, including its capital, Shijiazhuang, with moderate to heavy rain expected beginning Wednesday.