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China starts clear-up after deadly Henan storms

July 22, 2021

Residents in the storm-hit Chinese city of Zhengzhou are clearing up the debris and mud after a deluge that killed more than 30 in Henan province. Rescue teams are still searching for individuals reported missing.

An aerial view shows rescue workers evacuating residents on a flooded road
An aerial view shows one of the city's flooded main roads and residents being evacuated on a trailerImage: Aly Song/REUTERS

Zhengzhou residents on Thursday began to clear up, hauling away cars and the debris of wrecked buildings from floods that killed at least 33 people.

A sudden downpour overwhelmed the city's drainage systems, sending floodwater gushing through streets, road tunnels, and the subway system.

Questions have arisen on social media about how prepared authorities had been for such a disaster.

Essential supplies cut off

While there were drier conditions on Thursday in Zhengzhou, a city of some 12 million people, large parts of the city remained underwater.

Cars were left piled high by the water as residents prepared for a possible next wave of bad weather.

Trucks pumped water from underground tunnels as meteorologists issued "red" rain alerts.

Amid shortages of food, water and power, residents queued for emergency water and instant noodles.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that eight people were still missing after the floods.

Fresh landslide and flood warnings were issued for surrounding areas.

Anyang city, to the north of Zhengzhou, issued a red alert on Thursday for heavy downpours. Officials ordered schools to close and said most workers should stay at home.

The rains in Henan were triggered by Typhoon In-Fa, which was also associated with severe weather in the southern provinces of Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang.

Map showing the provinces of China where severe weather hit, particularly in the city of Zhengzhou
As well as Henan, three southern provinces were also badly hit by extreme weather associated with Typhoon In-Fa

Social media anger

Contributors to social media questioned how prepared authorities had been for the Tuesday deluge. High on the list of complaints was a failure to close the city subway system.

The underground rail network saw the worst incidence in terms of fatalities when 12 people died as the system became inundated with floodwaters.

"Why was it that water levels on the street were almost waist-high, but the subway was still allowing commuters in?" asked one user of China's Twitter equivalent, Weibo.

The transport ministry released a statement ordering rail operators to "absorb the lessons of recent incidents." It warned them to close stations promptly when faced with severe weather.

Rapid growth and climate change

Climate change is expected to make extreme weather events more common.

Henan province is crisscrossed with rivers, dams, and reservoirs that are designed to manage water flow and help with irrigation.

However, with the rapid growth of cities, there has been increasing pressure on drainage in more urban areas.