Tens of thousands of people were being evacuated from flood-ravaged swaths of central China on Thursday — as officials raised the death toll from the historic deluge in Henan province to 33 people.
The direct economic losses from the devastation was estimated at $189 million, according to Reuters, which cited the official Xinhua news agency, as the severe weather spread north and more cities were inundated.
On Thursday, the provincial weather bureau raised the storm alert for four cities in the north of Henan — Xinxiang, Anyang, Hebi and Jiaozuo — to red, the highest level of a four-step, color-coded warning system.
The fatalities included 12 people who were killed when the subway in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, a city of about 12 million people 400 miles southwest of Beijing, was flooded.
The fatal flooding in the subway prompted the government to order local authorities to immediately improve urban transit flood controls and emergency responses, Reuters reported.
In Zhengzhou, the skies had cleared Thursday, though floodwaters were still at waist height, or higher, with entire streets underwater in many parts as rescuers used rubber rafts to ferry residents to safety.
A group of 15 volunteers from a construction firm based in Sichuan province used a boat to transport residents who had been trapped in a high-rise.
“We bring out the elderly, pregnant women and children first,” said one of the volunteers surnamed Ma. “Last time, Sichuan had an earthquake. Now it’s flooding here. Today, you help me, tomorrow, I’ll help you.”
In 2008, Sichuan was hit by a magnitude-7.9 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people.
Zhengzhou this week became the epicenter of the extreme weather in central China, where 24.3 inches of rain was registered from Saturday to Tuesday, almost the equivalent of the city’s annual average of 25.2 inches.
A rescue worker said his team rescued about 1,000 people from a neighborhood on Wednesday — and expected 1,000 more to be rescued Thursday.
“Some of them don’t want to come out if they have food,” the rescuer, who declined to be identified, told Reuters. “Because when they do come out, there’s no place for them to go. But those without food would come out willingly.”
One resident said he had been trapped with his wife and two children in their apartment for days with no water.
“We had no water, no electricity, we couldn’t shower, and the water we used from washing, we saved it to flush the toilet,” said the man, surnamed Xu.
“I’ve lived here for four, five years, and this has never happened,” he told the news outlet as his family waited at the entrance of their condo for a boat to rescue them.
As the storm moved northward Thursday, more than 73,000 people were being evacuated from Anyang, a city on Henan’s border with Hebei province that had been swamped by more than 23 inches of rain since Monday, Xinhua reported.
Questions were raised Thursday over how prepared authorities were for the disaster – as irate users took to the Weibo social media site to question why the subway was not closed earlier, according to Agence France-Presse.
“Why was it that water levels on the street were almost waist-high, but the subway was still allowing commuters in?” one person asked.
With Post wires