August 4, 2021

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Heavy Floods in China Trapped Passengers in Subway, Killing 12 – The New York Times

4 min read

Severe flooding in central China has killed at least 12 people trapped inside a subway in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, according to state media reports. The flooding inundated much of the city and surrounding region, creating scenes of destruction that suggested the death toll could be much higher.

In Zhengzhou’s subway system, floodwaters breached a retaining wall near an entrance to Line 5, which makes a loop around the city center, China News reported. The water poured into the system between the Shakou Road and Haitan Temple stations around 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Trapped passengers posted videos showing water rising to their chests or necks. In one video, water surged outside the subway car’s windows. Other photographs and videos — some later apparently removed by censors — showed several lifeless bodies on a subway platform at the Shakou Road stop.

“It’s like making a horror movie, my goodness,” one man trapped in a subway car could be heard saying in one video.

The death and destruction in and around Zhengzhou, a city of five million along the Yellow River, seems certain to add to the grim global toll extreme weather has taken already this year. Researchers have said climate change is causing the scorching heat in the Pacific Northwest, forest fires in Siberia, and flooding in Germany and Belgium.

In a sign of the potential severity of the disaster, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, ordered the authorities to give top priority to people’s safety, Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said in a report that described “heavy casualties and property losses.” Mr. Xi called the flooding “very severe” and warned that some dams had been damaged even as rivers exceeded alert levels.

It was not immediately clear how many people had been trapped in the city’s subway, which began operating in 2013 and now has seven lines and 148 stations. The state news media said 500 people were evacuated and that those who had been trapped had been moved to safety.

The entire system remained closed on Wednesday morning

Flooding is routine in China, and the Communist Party government has made strides to try to tame the country’s volatile rivers and streams, but the risks appear to have become more severe, overwhelming drainage systems and rescue efforts and posing a test to the leadership. Last summer, China battled weeks of flooding along the Yangtze River that killed hundreds of people and displaced millions more. The rains at that time filled the Three Gorges Dam to its highest level since it opened in 2003.

The government often goes to great lengths to manage information about disasters, limiting news coverage and censoring blogs and social media sites over concerns about public dissatisfaction with prevention and rescue efforts. Already, some people on Chinese chat platforms and social media sites have raised questions about whether official news outlets in Zhengzhou and Henan Province initially downplayed the flood in the subway system.

In times of disaster, the country’s state news media often focuses on the efforts of rescue workers, including the military, while playing down the causes of disasters and their damage. A journalism professor, Zhan Jiang, posted a note on Weibo, the social media platform, complaining that a television station in Henan Province continued to show its regular programming instead of providing public safety information.

In Zhengzhou, torrential rain began on Sunday and continued into Wednesday. It was the heaviest on record in the city, according to China’s state television network, CCTV.

At one point, the city saw nearly eight inches of rain in one hour. In one day, the region recorded roughly the average annual rainfall. More than 140,000 people had to be evacuated, the reports said.

The downpour flooded roads and railways and disrupted operations at the airport, CCTV reported. A passenger train carrying 735 people came to a stop near Zhengzhou for more than 40 hours and had run out of food and water. Aerial photographs showed scores of cars all but covered by muddy water, the fate of their drivers and passengers unknown.

Videos circulating online showed cars and even people being swept away. At least one hospital, First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, was reported to be inundated with floodwater, losing electricity and jeopardizing patients being treated or monitored with electrical medical devices.

Flooding was also reported in several cities near Zhengzhou, where people posted pleas for help on WeChat and Weibo, two of the country’s biggest social networks. In Gongyi, at least 20,000 people were displaced by floodwaters that inundated scores of homes and washed away roads, according to reports.

Claire Fu, Li You, Liu Yi and Albee Zhang contributed research.

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