Heavy floods kill at least 12 in China and strand thousands in Henan province

  • a group of people walking down a street holding an umbrella: People wading through flood waters in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, on July 20.a person waiting for a train: A flooded subway station in Zhengzhou, in China's Henan province, after torrential rainfall on July 21.a group of people holding a sign: Workers drain water from a waterlogged area in Lanzhou, Henan, China, on July 20.a harbor filled with lots of traffic: People stranded in flood waters along a street following heavy rains in Zhengzhou, China, on July 20.

Terrified subway passengers in central China were left clinging to ceiling handles inside flooded cars on Tuesday, trapped up to their necks in rising water, as record breaking rains devastated parts of Henan province.

At least 12 people have been confirmed dead in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, where more than 20 centimeters (7.8in) of rain fell in one hour on Tuesday, according to the meteorological observatory.

It is not clear how many people were trapped on the subway and rescue efforts remain ongoing across Zhengzhou, a city of 12.6 million on the banks of the Yellow River.

More than 100,000 people have so far been evacuated from low-lying areas of the city, with thousands of emergency personnel deployed to assist in the effort, according to state-run media.

All of the bodies recovered were taken from the city’s subway system, according to authorities.

Footage broadcast by state news agency Xinhua and shared widely online shows passengers in Zhengzhou trapped inside a flooded subway car, packed tightly together as the water climbs higher. Outside the window, dark floodwater rips past, surging down the subway tracks.

The city’s subway system, which contains seven lines and 153 stations, suspended all operations after the incident, according to provincial authorities.

More than 160 trains also stopped service in the city’s railway station, stranding a large number of passengers, according to Xinhua.

Other videos show residents on the street, water up to their hips, working desperately to pull out people trapped in an underground mall using ropes. One clip shared by state-run paper People’s Daily shows motorists on a road making a human chain, to prevent being swept away by the current as they struggle through rushing water.

The heavy rains also caused power outages across the city. One hospital in Zhengzhou, housing nearly 10,000 patients including more than 600 in critical condition, faced an hours-long blackout Tuesday.

Though the rains have since eased, problems are likely to persist, as dams and reservoirs reach capacity. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Guojiaju dam near the city collapsed, according to public broadcaster CCTV.

And in Yichun county, a brigade of the Chinese military raced to blast a dam and divert the floods at the request of county authorities, according to state-run media CTGN.

More than 6,000 firefighters, and nearly 2,000 members of the police and Chinese military, have been deployed for search and rescue operations, according to CGTN. Footage from the ground shows soldiers and emergency teams rescuing residents on rafts and clearing toppled power lines.

Though flooding during the summer months is an annual occurrence in parts of China, recent record breaking rains have alarmed scientists and officials, raising questions as to whether the country is prepared to deal with more extreme and unpredictable weather.

A report released last week by Greenpeace warned that major metropolitan regions around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou-Shenzhen were facing high risk from extreme heat and rainfall and the danger is growing fast for urbanizing communities on city outskirts.

According to the report, Beijing has seen the fastest rise in average temperature with an increase of 0.32 degrees Celsius every 10 years. Guangzhou-Shenzhen has experienced 98 heat waves since 1961 the majority of which have taken place in the past two decades.

Meanwhile, rainfall is much more volatile, swinging from highs to lows. The report said if global greenhouse emissions peak around 2040, some parts of China like Shanghai would experience a more than 25% increase in extreme rainfall while other areas, like northwestern Guangzhou-Shenzhen, would see more drought.

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