Piles of cars were strewn across a central Chinese city Thursday as shocked residents picked through the debris of a historic deluge that claimed at least 33 lives, with rescue efforts ongoing as more heavy rain threatens surrounding regions.
An unprecedented downpour dumped a year’s rain in just three days on the city of Zhengzhou, weather officials said instantly overwhelming drains and sending torrents of muddy water through streets, road tunnels and the subway system.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the area surrounding the city were also affected by the floods, with farmland inundated and road and rail links severed.
In worst-hit Zhengzhou, grim images of horror inside the subway system were relayed in real-time over social media, showing water rising during Tuesday’s rush hour from the ankles of passengers to their necks.
At least a dozen people died before rescuers were able to cut survivors free from carriages.
Questions were starting to swirl Thursday over how prepared authorities were for the disaster. Angry users took to Weibo to question why the metro was not closed earlier, with one thread racking up more than 92 million views Thursday.
“Why was it that water levels on the street were almost waist-high, but the subway was still allowing commuters in?” asked one.
In a sign of mounting pressure, the transport ministry put out a statement ordering rail operators nationally to “absorb the lessons of recent incidents and… improve their emergency plans”, warning them to close stations quickly when faced with severe weather.
As the water retreated — with piles of cars a monument to its deadly power — residents prepared for another day of bad weather Thursday, moving vehicles to higher ground and trying to plot journeys out from the stricken city, where communications and power were still patchy.
Trucks pumped muddy water from underground tunnels as business owners counted the cost of the torrent and meteorologists issued “red” rain alerts, warning of the threat of fresh landslides and flooding in surrounding areas