Deadly floods hit central China, killing 12 and forcing thousands to flee homes

Torrential rainfall and burst rivers swamp Henan cities, with commuters trapped in underground trains in the capital Zhengzhou

Days of torrential rain and massive flooding have hit China’s Henan province, bursting the banks of rivers, overwhelming dams and the public transport system and forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

People swim in floodwater in Zhengzhou Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

At least 12 people have been killed in the provincial capital, Zhengzhou. A year’s worth of rain – 640mm – fell in just three days. The city’s weather bureau said more than 552mm of rain had fallen between 7pm Monday and 7pm Tuesday, including 202mm between 4 and 5pm on Tuesday.

About 200,000 people have been moved to shelters, state media Xinhua reported on Wednesday, citing local government. The rainfall flooded the city’s subway system, collapsed roads, and prompted the suspension of inbound flights.


Across social media, videos showed the severity of the flooding, with hundreds of cars floating down main streets, and crowds of people forming human chains to rescue each other from roads and flooded buildings.

In the subway system where many of the confirmed deaths are thought to have occurred, waist-high water gushed through the tunnels, submerging platforms and filling carriages. Other videos showed commuters trapped inside carriages holding on to handrails with water up to their chests. At least five lifeless bodies were visible in one clip, filmed at an unidentified Zhengzhou station.

“The water reached my chest,” a survivor wrote on social media. “I was really scared, but the most terrifying thing was not the water, but the diminishing air supply in the carriage.”

The death toll was expected to rise, with numerous social media posts by loved ones of people missing. In the nearby city of GongYi at least one person was reportedly killed and two reported missing.

Zhengzhou’s flood control headquarters said that water storage at the Guojiazui reservoir was at “major risk” of dam failure and the local government was ordering evacuations.

In the city of Luoyang, local authorities said the rainfall had caused a 20-metre breach in the Yihetan dam “could collapse at any time”. Early on Wednesday a division of China’s military were sent out to the site to carry out emergency blasting and flood diversion.

Other divisions were sent out across the province to fight the floods and carry out rescues, authorities said.

The heavy rain across Henan began on 17 July. On Tuesday, weather agencies issued the highest warning level for the province and Chinese weather forecasts expected further severe downpours.

From Saturday to Tuesday, 3,535 weather stations in Henan, one of China’s most populous provinces with 94 million people, reported rainfall exceeding 5cm. Among the stations 1,614 registered levels above 10cm and 151 above 25cm, the authorities said.

Footage on China’s social media showed the world-renowned Shaolin Temple, known for martial arts, as well as other cultural sites, badly affected. Hundreds of trapped residents in Henan called for help online as flooding cut electricity to their homes.

Floods are common in China’s rainy season, but their impact has worsened over the decades, due in part to China’s rapid urbanisation and the global climate crisis.

Extreme weather events have occurred in many parts of China this summer. Hundreds of thousands of residents in Sichuan province had to be relocated this month due to floods and landslides.

In June, Hotan city, in the far-west region of Xinjiang, had record-breaking rainfall, causing one resident to comment on social media that “the rainfall [this month] is equivalent to the combined rainfall of the past two years”.

Greenpeace said the risk of extreme weather was now highest in China in the densely populated city centres but that it was also growing fast for the outskirts of large cities because of rapid urbanisation.

Liu Junyan, of Greenpeace International, told Chinese media: “Because of the highly concentrated population, infrastructure and economic activity, the exposure and vulnerability of climate hazards are higher in urban areas. Cities are an important sector of global greenhouse gas emissions, which account for about 70% of the total emissions.”

Additional reporting by Jason Lu




Stranded cars in Zhengzhou. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock