Death toll in China’s Henan floods triples to 302, dozens missing

Officials say most fatalities were in the provincial capital Zhengzhou where the metro system was inundated with water.

People stand next to flowers placed at an entrance to the Zhengzhou underground network's Line 5 in memory of those who died in the flood [File: China Daily via Reuters]

The death toll from last month’s devastating floods in central China has risen to 302 with dozens of people still missing, according to officials, tripling the number of fatalities reported last week.

Zhengzhou, the state capital of Henan province, was hardest hit with 292 people dead and 47 missing, the local government said at a news briefing on Monday. Three people remain missing in other areas of the province.

Zhengzhou, home to 12 million people, saw a year’s worth of rain in just three days and residents found themselves trapped in underground train carriages, car parks and road tunnels by the swiftly rising waters.

Mayor Hou Hong told reporters that 39 bodies had been recovered from underground car parks and other areas in basements. Some 14 people died on Line 5 of the city’s subterranean train network where images and videos shared on social media showed people standing neck-deep in water as their carriage was inundated.

Some 617.1 millimetres (24.3 inches) of rain fell on Zhengzhou over three days from July 17, nearly equivalent to the city’s annual average of 640.8mm (25.2 inches).

Experts say extreme weather events, including severe floods and drought, will become increasingly common as a result of climate change.

On Monday, the State Council – China’s cabinet – announced an investigative team would examine the handling of the floods and propose measures to improve disaster prevention, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Cars tossed about by floodwaters in the city of Zhengzhou. Officials have increased the death toll to 302 with dozens still missing [File: Stringer/AFP]

City and provincial officials have faced calls for accountability, with the wife of one of the subway victims telling local media she would sue the metro operator for negligence.

News of the death toll enraged China’s social media users who demanded better disaster management protocols and criticised the government’s response.

“Can we do a good check of Zhengzhou’s drainage system?” a resident wrote on Weibo.

“We’re digging and building roads every day … change the leadership and do it all over again, all the money has been spent on superficial things!”

But criticism of the government’s handling of the disaster has also prompted hostility.

A large floral tribute at the still-closed Zhengzhou metro system was sealed off last week by authorities and foreign journalists covering the floods have been harassed online and on the ground.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said it was “very concerned” at the anger directed towards international media covering the disaster, noting incidents involving reporters working for the BBC, Deutsche Welle, the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and Agence France Presse.

The team from Al Jazeera English were also followed and filmed while reporting from outside the flooded metro system.

The United States has said it was “deeply concerned” over the harassment and intimidation of foreign correspondents covering the disaster.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies