The official death toll from central China’s devastating floods has risen to 33, as the public began to ask questions about the readiness of authorities for the disaster.
Cleanup efforts were under way in Henan province and the capital city Zhengzhou on Thursday, after a record breaking rain storm flooded the city’s streets and subway, damaged dams and reservoirs, collapsed roads, cut power to at least one hospital and was linked to a massive explosion at a factory in Dengfeng city.
Authorities said 200,000 people were displaced by the floods and more than three million people were affected.
Heavy rain was forecast to continue this week, driven in part by a strengthening typhoon east of Taiwan. In Guangdong, in southern China, 13 construction workers were killed when they were trapped in a flooded tunnel. Thousands of rescuers were sent in to assist northern Henan, where dozens of counties were hit by flooding on Wednesday night and Thursday, with reports of overflowing reservoirs, submerged roads, and cars and trucks being washed away.
The Henan disaster has prompted public scrutiny over the preparedness of authorities, in particular the apparently inaccurate weather forecasts, and the decision to keep the subway operating throughout the deluge.
Meteorological bodies have referred to the rainstorm – which saw a year’s worth of rainfall in three days – as a one-in-1,000-year weather event. The rainfall broke hourly and daily records of the 70 years of collected data.
At least 12 of the deaths occurred on the subway, where about 1,000 people were reportedly trapped in stations and carriages after water filled the tunnels. Alarming footage showed people clinging to handrails in chest-high water.
Local authorities said the heavy rain caused water to accumulate in the parking lot near Line 5 of the metro, breaking through a retaining wall at around 6pm and flooding the line, stopping trains between Shakoulu – where at least five deaths are believed to have occurred – and Haitansi stations.
The Chinese government has ordered local authorities to make immediate improvements to urban flood controls and emergency responses, including hidden risks on the rail system.
“They must take emergency measures such as suspending trains, evacuating passengers, and closing stations in atypical situations such as excessively intense storms,” the ministry said in a statement viewed at least 190m times on Weibo.
Hawkish state-owned tabloid, the Global Times, said it was “absolutely impossible to keep Zhengzhou from flooding” in such heavy rains but greater mitigation efforts were needed to reduce the loss of life.