China flooding kills at least 25, traps passengers in subway system

Widespread flooding in central China left at least 25 people dead this week, including 12 people who were trapped in a populated city’s underground subway system, after a series of heavy storms. 

Severe flooding on Tuesday overwhelmed the Henan provincial capital of Zhengzhou, a city of more than 10 million, and left passengers on subway trains stranded amid the rising water. City officials said on social media that 12 people died and at least five were injured, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Video on social media showed passengers standing inside a flooded train car after heavy rainfall accumulated between two stations on the city’s metro line 5, according to local news reports. Another video shared by the China Fire Brigade showed firefighters rescuing passengers through a subway tunnel.

The city experienced "a series of rare and heavy rainstorms, causing water to accumulate in Zhengzhou metro, city officials said in a Weibo post, according to the AFP. Officials said more than 100,000 people had been evacuated to safety.

A woman aboard a flooded train told her husband the water almost reached her neck and passengers had trouble breathing, the Henan Business Daily newspaper reported. It said staff at a subway station told her husband all passengers had been evacuated but acknowledged that wasn’t so after he started a video chat with his wife on his cellphone showing she still was aboard.

flooding in subway henan

A screengrab of a video shared to social media shows firefighters rescuing trapped subway passengers after flooding on July 20, 2021, in Zhengzhou, China. (Credit: Henan Fire via Storyful)

Other residents were left stranded at schools, apartments and offices with several people reported missing, provincial officials said at a news conference.

Transport and work have been disrupted throughout the Henan province, with rain turning streets into rapidly flowing rivers, washing away cars and rising into people’s homes.

At least 10 trains throughout the province carrying about 10,000 passengers were halted, including three for more than 40 hours, according to Caixin, a business news magazine. Sections of 26 highways were closed due to the rain, the Transport Ministry said on its social media account.

A blackout shut down ventilators at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, forcing staff to use hand-pumped airbags to help patients breathe, according to the city’s Communist Party committee. It said more than 600 patients were being transferred to other hospitals.

In the city of Luoyang, China’s military blasted a dam late Tuesday night to release floodwaters threatening the area. 

Henan province has many cultural sites and is a major base for industry and agriculture. It is crisscrossed by multiple waterways, many of them linked to the Yellow River, which has a long history of bursting its banks during periods of intensive rainfall.

State media on Wednesday showed waters at waist height, with rain still coming down.

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

China routinely experiences floods during the summer, but the growth of cities and conversion of farmland into subdivisions have worsened the impact of such events.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.