Unusually heavy rainfall and massive flooding have hit China’s Henan province, bursting rivers, overwhelming public transportation and turning the lives of tens of millions of people upside down.
At least three people have been killed in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, where more than 20 cm of rain fell in an hour on Tuesday. The rainfall shut down the city’s subway system, leaving passengers trapped in the medium-high water.
More than 10,000 residents of the central province have been transferred to shelters, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday.
The heavy rain in Henan started on July 17. On Tuesday, weather authorities issued the highest warning level for the province and Chinese weather forecasts expected further heavy rains.
From Saturday to Tuesday, 3,535 weather stations in Henan, one of China’s most populous provinces with 94 million people, reported precipitation of more than 5 cm. Of the stations, 1,614 levels above 10 cm and 151 above 25 cm have been recorded, authorities said.
Footage on Chinese social media shows how the world-famous Shaolin Temple, known for its martial arts, and other cultural sites have been badly hit. Hundreds of trapped Henan residents called for help online as floods cut electricity to their homes.
Floods are common during the rainy season in China, but their impact has worsened over the decades, due in part to China’s rapid urbanization and the global climate crisis.
Extreme weather events have occurred in many parts of China this summer. Hundreds of thousands of residents of Sichuan province had to be relocated this month due to flooding and landslides.
In June, the city of Hotan, in the far west of Xinjiang, had record-breaking rainfall, prompting a resident on social media to say that “the rainfall [this month] is equal to the combined rainfall of the past two years”.
Greenpeace said the risk of extreme weather is now greatest in China in the densely populated city centers, but it is also growing rapidly for the suburbs of major cities due to rapid urbanization.
Liu Junyan, of Greenpeace International, told Chinese media: “Due to highly concentrated population, infrastructure and economic activity, exposure and vulnerability to climate hazards are greater in urban areas. Cities are a major sector of global greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 70% of total emissions.”