Rescuers help victims of a rare flood in a relatively dry part of China
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2021-08-04  ·   Source: NO.31 AUGUST 7, 2021
Emergency response personnel evacuate stranded people at the entry to an expressway in flood-hit Zhengzhou, Henan Province, on July 23 (XINHUA)

Before the torrential rain hit the city, Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province in central China, has seldom been associated with flooding.

But unprecedented heavy rain poured on July 20, and within an hour from 4 to 5 p.m. the city saw 201.9 mm of precipitation, the highest hourly amount ever recorded in China.

The downpours wreaked havoc in the city. Many parts of the city were inundated in the flood and cars were seen floating down streets, carried away by the torrents. Water poured into the subway line, stranding subway cars and passengers. Water supplies and power in many parts of the city, including some major hospitals, were cut off. Phone signals were affected. Over 100 trains were delayed or canceled and several roads and highways were blocked.

The rain continued to lash the city in the following few days and spread to many other places in the province and further to its neighboring Hebei Province. In rural areas, dams burst and rivers broke their banks. As a leading producer of summer grain, over 1 million hectares of crops in Henan were affected by the floods.

Rushing aid 

Chen Tao, chief forecaster of the National Meteorological Center, commented on the possible causes of the record rainfall at a press conference on July 21. Typhoon In-fa, which was still over the Pacific Ocean at that time, pushed water vapor into Henan from the sea, and then a low pressure system lifted the moisture into the air where it quickly cooled and condensed. The high pressure systems and the region's special terrain, surrounded by mountains, also contributed to the heavy rain in Henan.

The central authorities immediately deployed rescue forces from seven neighboring provinces, multiple ministries, the People' Liberation Army (PLA) and armed police, who soon arrived in the disaster-affected areas and immediately started to carry out rescue and disaster relief work.

The PLA deployed on July 21 more than 5,700 troops and militiamen in Henan to take part in disaster-relief efforts, including clearing river courses, reinforcing dikes, building makeshift flood banks, and relocating affected residents.

The PLA Central Theater Command set up a front disaster-relief headquarters and activated an emergency response plan. Military satellites and aircraft monitored situations in the flood-hit areas.

The Ministry of Finance on July 21 earmarked 100 million yuan ($15.42 million) of disaster relief funds for Henan.

A rescue team of 1,800 firefighters has been deployed to the flood-hit region from seven neighboring provinces, together with boats and pumping vehicles. Drainage companies throughout the country organized rescue commandos to conduct emergency drainage work in Zhengzhou.

The Beijing Drainage Group, for example, mobilized 73 rescue workers to take equipment capable of pumping 7,800 cubic meters of water per hour to the central urban area of Zhengzhou. Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, mobilized four mobile pumping trucks to the city with the 24-hour pumping machines playing an important role in clearing tunnels and resuming traffic.

State Grid Ningxia Electric Power Co. Ltd. sent 332 rescue workers in three groups to conduct electrical repairs and ensure power supply.

To prevent any casualties caused by geological disasters following the flood, the Natural Resources Department of Henan sent six working groups to the frontline to inspect potential geological risks. As of July 28, 139 geological hazards were found to be caused by the rain but no casualties or injuries had been reported from geological disasters thanks to the timely evaluation and action.

High technologies were adopted in flood control and disaster relief. Dolphin 1, a portable robot rescue lifeboat from Zhuhai Yunzhou Intelligent Technology in Guangdong Province, was used in aiding water rescue teams. It can carry loads up to 150 kg while also dragging three people to safety. On July 20, 118 sets of Dolphin 1 were deployed. 

For the areas that experienced cut telecommunication, a disaster-assistance drone was deployed to restore communication by providing communication links to people using the China Mobile network.

Civilian rescue teams including the Blue Sky Rescue Team took swift actions, setting off for Henan early on July 21. Companies and individuals also rushed to extend helping hands by making donations to the flood-hit areas. As of July 27, charitable organizations and Red Cross societies in Henan Province had received a total of 4.95 billion yuan ($760 million) in donations.

Further alerts 

Zhengzhou and Henan gradually resumed normal life with help. On July 25, a China-Europe freight train loaded with electronic components, auto parts and other goods departed Zhengzhou for Belgium's Liege. As of July 27, bus services in some rain-ravaged cities in Henan resumed operation.

However, more work needs to be done in reconstruction. As of July 29, 99 deaths were reported in the Henan flood. Li Changxun, deputy head of the provincial department of emergency management, revealed at a press conference on July 27 that about 13.3 million people were affected in Henan by the flood and over 15,000 houses collapsed. The Ministry of Finance announced on July 27 to allocate an additional 3 billion yuan ($461 million) for the reconstruction in Henan. 

Zhou Xuewen, Secretary General of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters and Vice Minister of Emergency Management, revealed that since July 17, floods in the whole country this year had affected a total of 15.4 million people, causing direct economic losses estimated at 123 billion yuan ($19 billion).

He also warned that more extreme weather might follow in August with heavy downpours hitting the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, eastern and central provinces, and parts of the northeast.

To cope, China will step up efforts to issue weather warnings and ensure better coordination and implementation of emergency responses. Local authorities are required to ensure weather warnings are passed on to every individual in their communities.

"Local authorities need to test their emergency response systems to make sure that they are effective, while emergency response teams must react quickly when extreme weather hits," Zhou said.

(Print Edition Title: Out of the Flood) 

Copyedited by Ryan Perkins 

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