China flooding crisis: typhoon warning as over one million relocated

Floodwaters leave towns and villages cut off from rescuers

Villages were evacuated using makeshift bridges on Friday as floods submerged areas of central China after an historic deluge that claimed at least 58 lives.

Adding to the misery, an approaching typhoon threatens to dump more rain on the stricken area. Typhoon In-Fa is forecast to bring torrential downpours to parts of Henan province in the coming days, state media said.

Millions have been affected by the floods in Henan, with people trapped for days without fresh food or water, with floodwaters pulverising roads, breaching embankments and caking whole areas in ankle-deep mud.

In the worst-hit city of Zhengzhou, firefighters on Friday pumped muddy water from tunnels, including a subway where at least a dozen people drowned in a train earlier in the week as a year's worth of rainfall fell in only three days.

A digger carried people in its scoop across flooded streets as the receding water left behind a layer of thick mud in other parts of the city.

Heavy rain overnight caused floods to surge northwards to Xinxiang and its surrounding areas where vast areas of farmland were inundated and the town cut off as the Wei River burst its banks.

Aerial footage showed rescuers using temporary bridges on Friday to move hundreds of residents to safety, with tree tops poking above the water the only sign of land for kilometres.

Local media in Zhengzhou said that as of Saturday, 1,141,100 people were being evacuated from their homes and that over 900,000 people had been "safely transferred."

Liang Long, an employee at a hotel in a city in Xinxiang province, told AFP that hundreds had arrived seeking refuge since Thursday afternoon and through the night.

"Their villages have been flattened with nothing left," he said.

The hotel, about 20 kilometres from the worst-hit areas, was still receiving continuous calls for help, Mr Liang said.

"There are many people and our hotel's food is running low," he said.

Videos shared on social media provided a window into the destructive power of the floods, which tossed cars into piles and sucked pedestrians towards storm drains.

Harrowing footage from rush-hour passengers trapped in the subway, where waters rose from ankle to neck height, pinballed across China's Twitter-like Weibo platform as questions were asked about why the underground network was allowed to operate during such a storm.

Meteorologists are anxiously watching the progress of Typhoon In-Fa, which has already caused heavy rains in Taiwan and the east coast of China and is expected to make landfall from Sunday in an area populated by tens of millions of people.

"After landing, In-fa may circulate in the east China region, bringing long periods of extremely heavy rainfall," the National Meteorological Centre said.

During high tides, "coastal areas should guard against the combined impact of wind, rain and tides", the centre said, warning the public to prepare for a major weather event.

Questions are being asked about how China's crowded cities could be better prepared for freak weather events, which experts say are happening with increased frequency and intensity because of climate change.

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

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

Stories of remarkable survival and tragedy emerged as floodwaters receded in southern parts of Henan, with a baby dug out from a collapsed house where her mother died in the debris.

Locals in Gongyi on Thursday told of being pulled from flooded homes to safety or scrambling to higher floors unable to flee.

"We couldn't evacuate in time because my elderly disabled grandma couldn't leave the house," a 16-year-old school pupil, who said their house was completely flooded, told AFP. "I was pretty scared I'd drown."

Updated: July 24th 2021, 11:21 AM
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