‘Utterly Ruined’: The Debris-Strewn Aftermath of China’s Record Rains

Jul 22, 2021 | China, GREEN, NEWS

Cars were strewn over roads after the heavy rains hit the city of Zhengzhou

Homes in ruins, pulverised roads and a sea of mud coating cars, the once affluent central Chinese town of Mihe was still in shock Thursday as residents turned to food handouts and slept rough after record-breaking storms.

Devastated locals surveyed the damage as the rains finally subsided, treading carefully on smashed paving through tangles of collapsed electricity poles and wires.

“I’ve lost everything, it’s all been washed away,” said one middle-aged resident, before bursting into tears.

Many had barely eaten for days, with water, electricity and phone signal cut off.

China Record Breaking Storm

Devastated locals surveyed the damage as the rains finally subsided

“Mihe used to be a lively, prosperous town but now it’s utterly ruined,” a 22-year-old university student surnamed Du told AFP.

AFP was given rare access to join a rescue mission in stricken Henan province, joining a large team of volunteers that drove hundreds of miles through the night to offer help.

With cars full of food, water and supplies, the Blue Sky Rescue team arrived at Mihe early Thursday.

Volunteer Wang Lang said they arrived in that town in response to calls from local firefighters about stranded residents, and worked with the authorities to “evacuate residents and recover bodies”.

At least two people were killed in their homes in the area during the storms, they said, as calls kept coming in throughout the day of other fatalities — including a girl trapped by a falling tree.

So far 33 deaths have been reported across Henan province during the floods, but the number is expected to rise as storms subside and rescue operations continue across a heavily populated area where communications have been severely disrupted.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the floods across Henan province, with farmland ruined by floodwaters and transport paralysed.

With many out of signal, a student from the province started an open-source spreadsheet for relatives to list lost or stranded loved ones.

The list, shared on social media, quickly racked up hundreds of names.

As their work continued through Thursday, rescuers with shovels and helmets battled a thick layer of mud at least a foot deep, trying to return some sense of normality to reeling residents. 

Floods Across Henan Province

Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the floods across Henan province

“When I first arrived here and saw villagers scavenging for corn cobs from the fields, I felt very sad,” said one volunteer in his thirties, surnamed Zhou.

Ths smaller, one-storey houses were the worst hit, and Blue Sky helped to drive some of the elderly relatives out of the devastated town to higher ground.

Locals recounted stories of being pulled from flooded homes to safety, scrambling to higher floors and watching neighbouring houses come down in the onslaught.

“We couldn’t evacuate in time because my elderly disabled grandma couldn’t leave the house,” said one 16-year-old school student surnamed Zhang, who said their house had completely flooded.

“I was pretty scared I’d drown.”

Thick Layer of Mud Left by the Flood

Rescuers with shovels and helmets battled a thick layer of mud at least a foot deep

Chinese City Picks through the Debris after Record Rains Kill 33

Piles of cars were strewn across a central Chinese city Thursday as shocked residents picked through the debris of a historic deluge that claimed at least 33 lives, with rescue efforts ongoing and hundreds seeking to find their relatives.

An unprecedented downpour dumped a year’s rain in just three days on the city of Zhengzhou, weather officials said, instantly overwhelming drains and sending torrents of muddy water through streets, road tunnels and the subway system.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the area were also affected by the floods, with farmland inundated and road and rail links severed.

In worst-hit Zhengzhou, grim images of horror inside the subway system were relayed in real-time over social media, showing water rising during Tuesday’s rush hour from the ankles of passengers to their necks.

At least a dozen people died before rescuers were able to cut survivors free from carriages.

Questions were swirling Thursday over how prepared authorities were for the disaster. Angry Weibo users questioned why the metro was not closed earlier, with one thread racking up more than 160 million views Thursday.

Flooding in Henan Province,China

“Why was it that water levels on the street were almost waist-high, but the subway was still allowing commuters in?” asked one.

In a sign of mounting pressure, the transport ministry put out a statement ordering rail operators to “absorb the lessons of recent incidents”, warning them to close stations quickly when faced with severe weather.

As the water retreated — with piles of cars a monument to its deadly power — residents prepared for the next wave of bad weather Thursday, moving vehicles to higher ground and trying to plot journeys out from the stricken city, where communications and power were still patchy.

With many streets still flooded, trucks pumped muddy water from underground tunnels as meteorologists issued “red” rain alerts, warning of the threat of fresh landslides and flooding in surrounding areas.

Residents queued to receive emergency water and instant noodles, as blackouts added to the challenges.

“I am waiting for the power to be restored, but it may take several more days I think,” Chen, the owner of a local restaurant, told AFP.

Extreme Weather

Climate change is making these kinds of extreme weather events more common as the world continues to heat up

Lost Everything

In Mihe township in Gongyi city — one of the worst-affected areas — residents surveyed the wreckage left behind as the rain stopped Thursday.

“I’ve lost everything, it’s all been washed away. I had nothing to eat (while my house was flooded),” said a local resident, a middle-aged woman surnamed Song.

The human cost looked set to rise as rescuers scoured through debris.

An open-source spreadsheet, started by a student from Henan, was circulating on social media and listed hundreds of missing or stranded people across the province.

One woman whose relatives were listed on the spreadsheet told AFP that communications and power in the village near Gongyi county were both down, making it difficult to get information.

“Most houses in my hometown have been flooded by mudslides,” she said.

The state-run Global Times newspaper shared a video of rescuers pulling a three-month-old baby from a collapsed building in Zhengzhou.

The newspaper said the baby’s mother was still missing.

Flooding in China

Endless city sprawl is putting pressure on drainage in China

Topography, Typhoon, Climate

Questions turned to how China’s bulging cities could be better prepared for freak weather events, which experts say are happening with increased frequency and intensity due to climate change.

Anyang city, north of Zhengzhou, issued a red alert Thursday for heavy downpours after some areas received over 100 millimeters of rain, ordering schools to close and most workers to stay at home.

The changing climate is also making these kinds of extreme weather events more common as the world continues to heat up.

Henan province is striated by rivers, dams and reservoirs, many constructed decades ago to manage the flow of floodwater and irrigate the agricultural region.

But endless city sprawl is putting pressure on drainage.

State media rebuked suggestions that dams played a part in subverting the normal flow of water.

by Leo RAMIREZ / Ludovic EHRET / with Laurie CHEN