25 dead in floods in central China in worst rains since records began

ZHENGZHOU, China (AFP) – At least 25 people have died, including a dozen passengers trapped in a flooded metro, after torrential rains flooded central China, crippling several cities and causing millions of dollars in damage.

As the river dikes were breached in record-breaking downpours in Henan province, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the situation “extremely serious” with flood control measures entering a “critical stage. “, the official media reported on Wednesday.

About 200,000 residents were evacuated to Zhengzhou, local government officials said, as soldiers led the rescue efforts in the city of more than 10 million people, which has seen the equivalent of a year of average rain poured into it in just three days.

Rainfall in the region has been the most abundant since records began 60 years ago, as scientists say climate change is making flooding worse around the world, alongside other growing weather conditions. more extreme.

Thunderstorms swamped the Zhengzhou metro on Tuesday evening, killing 12 people and injuring five, while city officials said hundreds of people were rescued from the metro.

Images shared on social media showed shocked passengers struggling with chest-high water inside a train car. Rescuers opened the roof of the bus to bring people to safety, local media reported.

Others showed spectacular rescues of pedestrians in Zhengzhou from torrents gushing through the streets.

Outside a road tunnel, AFP saw dozens of abandoned cars lined up, some half submerged in water.

At least four people were killed in the nearby town of Gongyi, where houses and walls collapsed, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, adding that the rains had caused multiple landslides.

Relatives outside Zhengzhou requested information from Weibo in China as communications with the city were cut.

Li Rongguang, a woman in her 60s, told AFP that she had come to Zhengzhou to see a doctor, but found herself stranded when the trains were stopped due to the storm.

She said she struggled to contact relatives or make mobile payments due to a weak phone signal.

“I want to get home as soon as possible,” she said, sitting by the side of the road. “I can’t take this anymore.”

A damaged scene after severe flooding and landslides in recent days struck County-level Gongyi Town near Zhengzhou, central China’s Henan Province on July 22, 2021 (Jade Gao). / AFP)

Authorities have issued the highest level of alert for Henan Province as flooding continues to hit the region, with landslides blocking many roads, villages evacuated, tourist sites closed and large areas left behind. without communication.

The cultural heritage body has warned that some key heritage sites have suffered water damage, including the Shaolin Temple – a famous monastery and martial arts school – and the Longmen Caves, a World Heritage Site in UNESCO Buddhist stone carvings dating from the 5th century.

Henan is the cradle of traditional Chinese martial arts and is home to many kung fu academies.

The statement said “key protected cultural relics suffered water damage to varying degrees” but said they were now safe, without providing specific details.

As the scale of the disaster continued to expand and the damage amounted to tens of millions of dollars, the Chinese military said it had averted the collapse of the Yihetan Dam, about an hour outside of the city. from Zhengzhou.

On Wednesday morning, the People’s Liberation Army said blasting operations had been carried out at the dam and troops had “successfully opened a new flood diversion opening.”

These measures meant that the water level had dropped and that the “danger was effectively controlled”.

Rescuers conduct a search operation in Gongyi, a county-level town that has suffered severe flooding and landslides in recent days, near Zhengzhou, central China’s Henan Province, July 22, 2021. (Jade Gao / AFP)

Thousands of soldiers were deployed to other nearby rivers to reinforce the dikes with sandbags, as flooding spread across Henan and warnings were issued for more dam ruptures nearby.

“Some reservoirs have seen their dams burst (…) causing serious injuries, loss of life and material damage,” Xi Jinping said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

“We have already entered the critical phase of flood control, leaders and cadres from all walks of life must … take the lead in command, quickly organize flood protection forces and disaster relief .

Annual flooding during the rainy season in China causes chaos and destroys roads, crops and homes.

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

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