The Chinese military has blown up a dam to release water that threatens one of the most densely populated provinces as widespread flooding has seen the death toll rise to at least 25 and is expected to rise further.
The dam operation was carried out late Tuesday night near Luoyang city, just as Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, was inundated by severe flooding, trapping residents in the subway system and stranding them in schools, apartments and offices.
Another seven people were reported missing, provincial officials said at a news conference Wednesday night.
The death toll was expected to rise Thursday as rescue efforts continue in the devastated region where a year of rain – 640 mm (25 in) – fell in the region in just three days.
Chinese media said rainfall in the past “1,000 years” was unprecedented. Some fear that, given the extent of the damage, post-disaster reconstruction will be particularly challenging for one of China’s most populous provinces. 12 million people live in Zhengzhou alone and early estimates indicate that 1.2 million people have been directly affected by the floods.
A video posted to Twitter by news site The Paper showed subway passengers standing in chest-high muddy brown water as the tunnel flowed outside.
Transportation and work have been disrupted across the province, with rain turning streets into rushing rivers, washing away cars and invading people’s homes.
At least 10 trains carrying about 10,000 passengers were halted, three of which lasted more than 40 hours, according to Caixin, a business news magazine. Parts of 26 highways were closed due to the rain, the transport ministry reports on its social media account.
A power outage caused the ventilators at Zhengzhou University’s First Affiliated Hospital to shut down, forcing staff to use hand-inflated airbags to help patients breathe, the city’s communist party committee said. It said more than 600 patients were transferred to other hospitals.
A woman aboard a subway in a flooded tunnel told her husband that the water nearly reached her neck and passengers were having trouble breathing, the Henan Business Daily newspaper reported.
It said subway station staff told her husband that all passengers had been evacuated, but acknowledged they hadn’t after he started a video chat with his wife on his cell phone, which revealed she was still on board.
The exact times and locations of the deaths and disappearances were not immediately clear, although the province said more than 100,000 people had been taken to safety.
Henan Province – located between Beijing and Shanghai in central China – has many cultural attractions and is an important base for industry and agriculture. It is crossed by several waterways, many of which are connected to the Yellow River, which has a long history of overflowing during periods of intense rainfall.
State media showed water at waist height on Wednesday, while it was still raining. North of Zhengzhou, the famous Shaolin Temple, known for the mastery of martial arts by the Buddhist monks, was also badly hit.
China regularly experiences flooding during the summer, but the growth of cities and the conversion of farmland into subdivisions have exacerbated the impact of such events.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping “to express his sincere condolences on the tragic loss of life and devastation,” a UN spokesman said on Wednesday.