China’s Henan braces for more rain as death toll rises to 33

Weather authorities issue highest-level warning after days of torrential rain

China’s Henan province is bracing for heavier showers after severe flooding sparked large-scale evacuations and left at least 33 dead.

The death toll includes at least 12 people who were killed when water flooded subway cars in the provincial capital Zhengzhou. Eight remain missing, according to government figures.

Heavy rain is expected on Thursday in parts of Henan as well as neighboring Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing.

Rainfall in the area intensified since Tuesday, with Zhengzhou, a city of 10 million, receiving a year’s worth of rain in just three days. Across Henan, three million people have been affected and as many as 380,000 evacuated as of early Thursday.

The province is home to the world’s biggest production base for iPhones and a major centre for food production and heavy industry.

Pictures published by state media showed large sections of roads submerged in Zhengzhou, while videos on social media showed passengers stuck in flooded subway cars with water up to their shoulders and residents being pulled to safety with ropes from fast-moving floodwaters.

The deluge has, since Tuesday, brought the equivalent of more than eight months’ worth of the city’s average rainfall, and interrupted the operations of at least one global company with manufacturing operations there.

Nissan Motor said it temporarily halted production in Zhengzhou. SAIC Motor, China’s biggest carmaker, said logistics around its factory in Zhengzhou have been affected by the floods in the short term, but the plant had not been damaged.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, which owns a huge iPhone production plant in Zhengzhou, said it had activated an emergency response plan but the flooding has had no direct effect on the facility.

Hon Hai’s plant receives components needed to assemble iPhones from global and domestic Chinese suppliers before shipping out the finished products. The flooding struck as the company is preparing to increase output before the launch of Apple’s latest devices towards the end of the year.

State broadcaster CCTV showed residents being rescued in rafts from flooded streets.

One emergency worker carried a baby; a man in an underpass sat on top of his half-submerged car.

The flooding in Henan may also affect China’s food supply. Henan accounts for about a quarter of the wheat harvest and is a major centre for frozen food production.

It's also the home of the world’s biggest pork processor WH Group, which acquired US meat production company Smithfield Food in 2013.

As of late Wednesday, more than 470,000 people and over 55,000 hectares of crops have been affected by the downpours, Xinhua News Agency said, adding the local government had deployed a 76,000-strong search and rescue team.

On Wednesday, rescue workers and authorities continued to work to prevent dam breaches, restore lost power and pump out submerged petrol stations.

China’s military blasted a dam to release floodwaters threatening one of its most heavily populated provinces.

The operation late on Tuesday in the city of Luoyang came after at least 25 people died in Zhengzhou.

President Xi Jinping urged officials to step up disaster relief measures, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

About 260 flights have been cancelled. Inbound flights to Zhengzhou have also been suspended.

Zhengzhou recorded 457.5 millimetres of rain in the 24 hours up to 5pm on Tuesday, the highest since records began for the city of more than 10 million people, Xinhua reported.

That included a record 201.9mm in an hour, from 4pm to 5pm, a record for mainland China. Zhengzhou typically receives average annual precipitation of about 640.8mm.

The record rainfall came shortly after key Chinese cities said homes and factories faced new power failures as historic demand and supply shortages strain energy grids.

To the north of Zhengzhou, the famed Shaolin Temple, known for its Buddhist monks’ mastery of martial arts, was also badly hit.

China experiences regular flooding in summer months, but the growth of cities and conversion of farmland into subdivisions have increased such events.

Updated: July 22nd 2021, 6:49 AM