Desperate appeals for help mounted in the smaller towns and cities surrounding Zhengzhou, with many saying embankments protecting residents from the floods were barely holding.
“The most, most crucial thing is that we don’t have food at the moment. We haven’t eaten since the morning,” said Li Xiqin, chief of the Gongji Hospital of Huixian city, where flooding has left her stranded on the hospital premises with 380 nursing home residents, 150 patients and 150 staff members.
She shared videos of the scene, including one showing employees wheeling bed-bound patients through muddy water while medical supplies floated by. In another video, about a dozen staff members are shown pushing down a brick wall on the west side of the hospital campus to let water escape.
“Water, electricity and gas have all stopped,” Li said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “We’ve contacted people for materials, but we don’t know when they will arrive.”
Central China, where multiple tributaries of the Yellow River crisscross and monsoon rains are exceptionally heavy, has long been subject to flooding. But the rainfall that hit low-lying Zhengzhou on Tuesday was the heaviest on record in the country, with nearly eight inches of precipitation between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. More than 500 commuters in the city’s subways were trapped as water poured into underground tunnels, officials said Thursday. Most were rescued.
The city of Zhengzhou downgraded its emergency response level on Thursday, the South China Morning Post reported. City residents began cleaning up, shoveling mud and hauling away destroyed cars. But other parts of the province are still experiencing, and preparing for, more rainfall.
China’s Central Meteorological Observatory said the heavy rain is likely to continue at least until Friday morning, with storm clouds moving to the northern and western regions of Henan and the southern tip of Hebei province.
On Wednesday, Xinxiang, a city of 5 million that includes Huixian, reported a two-hour rainfall rivaling the deluge in Zhengzhou, local news outlets reported. A train that was stranded in Zhengzhou for 40 hours earlier this week found itself stuck again on Thursday in Xinxiang.
Food and water supplies for the train’s hundreds of passengers were running low, local news agencies said. In Anyang, another city in Henan, officials on Thursday halted all public transportation, vacated underground garages and told residents not to leave their homes unless it was absolutely necessary.
“Please pay attention to Xinxiang, Weihui and Anyang,” one user pleaded on the microblogging site Weibo. “Villages are being drowned; mudslides are starting and there are already too many people in need of help at collapsed roads.”
“In the small city of Weihui, it’s been raining for three days already,” said another user. “Some villages have been relying entirely on local residents without any outside support!”
The rain has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and caused about $189 million in economic damage, Henan authorities said Thursday, CNN reported. Officials on Wednesday evening said that 6,000 firefighters and 2,000 military and paramilitary force members have been deployed.
Debate also intensified Thursday over the government’s response to the floods.
The state-owned tabloid Global Times said it was “absolutely impossible to keep Zhengzhou from flooding” and that Henan’s response “will not fail to meet public expectations.”
But a blog post shared widely on the messaging service WeChat alleged that state-backed organizations initially attempted to play down the tragedy, including a local Henan news agency that said Zhengzhou’s subway had been safely evacuated even as photos and videos of casualties circulated on social media.
Some have also pushed back at what they view as a glossing over of the disaster’s effects by local officials.
A columnist for the state-owned Beijing News said it was inappropriate for people to adopt an overly positive tone for rescue efforts, referencing a now-deleted line from the Zhengzhou city government’s Weibo account that said: “We have to keep the faith. After this historic downpour, the city will be cleaner, the grass will be greener and more lush.”
“The emotional tone of these floods is gray,” columnist Ding Hui wrote. “Even the most uplifting quips can’t hide the reality that this city has just met with a massive disaster.”
Lyric Li in Seoul and Sammy Westfall in Washington contributed to this report.