The central region of Henan and its capital, Zhenzhou, suffer a severe flood that could be made worse if its dams break
After central Europe, China. The central province of the Asian giant, Henan, suffers the most important floods in more than half a century due to torrential rains that have caused at least 25 deaths and an unknown number of missing. The catastrophe already affects 1.2 million citizens, of which 200,000 have been evacuated to shelters. President Xi Jinping declared on Wednesday that the floods are “extremely serious” and that the government’s “priority” is to save lives, for which it has mobilized 6,000 firefighters and the military.
The chain of events is similar to the one that took the lives of more than 200 people in Germany and Belgium last week. Everything revolves around a gigantic storm. In this case, the trigger was Typhoon In-fa as it passed through the northwestern Pacific Ocean, according to local media. The turbulence would have pushed a huge front of moisture-filled clouds that abruptly discharged into the Henan Mountains. The region, with about one hundred million inhabitants, is an important communications hub, which in the last hours was paralyzed, with 260 flights canceled and the rail service suspended, as well as a notable industrial and agri-food production center.
The incessant rain that fell in these days – from 201 to 500 millimeters at the worst moments – has multiplied the flow of the rivers, especially the Great Yellow, and flooded lands. And between Tuesday and Wednesday, it unleashed the great avenue of water on Zhenzhou, the capital of twelve million people. In three days it has endured a deluge equivalent to the rainfall of a whole year. There are meteorologists who assure that such a phenomenon only occurs once every hundred years.
Most of the fatalities occurred in the subway, transformed into a mousetrap that rescue services track in search of missing persons. It flooded at such a speed that hundreds of passengers did not have time to leave the trains and platforms. An explosive flood. Many travelers recorded her with their mobiles and water up to her waist. In total darkness after bursting the electrical panels, those affected are observed, some carrying children, walking down the side step of the tunnel, through which a muddy torrent runs.
Several trapped users say goodbye to their relatives, as seen in the images. They worry about suffocation when the cars lack oxygen or the possibility of a second wave. “I was very afraid, but the most terrifying thing was not the water, but the air that was beginning to be lacking in the wagon,” a young man told Reuters.
The declarations of a good number of victims indicated that the alarms did not work, or did not do it with the necessary speed. Xi Jinping himself encouraged yesterday to improve the alert system. The same controversy that shakes the German Chancellery these days over the disaster in the two Rhineland.
Thousands of people were transferred to sports facilities, pavilions and libraries, where makeshift shelters were set up. Others spent the night in offices and shops. One of the circumstances that aggravated the tragedy in the subway was the stoppage of 89 bus lines, which increased the volume of users of the subway. 10,000 students and teachers were locked up at the University, and 600 seriously ill patients had to be evacuated from a hospital due to the power failure. All this in an astonished, chaotic and wet city, where cars floated while the clouds headed towards Hebei, Shanxi, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and Yunnan.
Risk of breakage
The rivers are the fingers of the storms and in Henan the concern is now concentrated in them and in the reservoirs. Forty streams are out of control and 32 dams and reservoirs are in danger of bursting. The authorities have already raised the alarm about the Guojiazui swamp, whose “high risk” of immediate collapse has forced the evacuation of populations near the capital.
Another key dam, Yihetan, above the city of Louyang, is cracked. Technicians have discovered a twenty-meter-long crack and they are considering evicting seven million inhabitants. The military deployed in the region have detonated explosive charges to divert or block some rivers.
Floods are frequent in China at this time of summer, and also in Henan, which has a formidable water system. However, meteorologists have been surprised by the unprecedented and sudden torrential nature of these rains – even greater than those that have devastated Germany and Belgium – which triggered the level of the rivers.
However, the capital and its surroundings suffer from other structural problems, according to technicians, which contribute to making the floods increasingly serious: the extinction of natural flood plains and agricultural land due to the unstoppable growth of the urban periphery and the installation of river dikes that have cut the dispersion of water into lakes and sinkholes.