Residents cite poor drainage and inadequate warning systems in Zhengzhou for damage caused in floods
After days of record-breaking rainfall and dramatic scenes of flooding, Zhengzhou in China’s Henan province is gradually emerging from the natural disaster that has killed at least 25 people.
Kao recalled how he risked his life to get home from his office on Tuesday night. His office is in a 30-story building in the economic centre of the city, but the life-threatening rain and flooding had caused the building to lose electricity and water.
“I had to take the stairs to get to the first floor and as I tried to exit the building, I saw several cars submerged in the muddy water and the traffic lights were also dysfunctional,” he said. “The flood had pushed many private cars and buses together on the road and the water was about one-metre deep, making it impossible for me to go home on my bike.”
Kao said while he remembered witnessing a similar amount of rain in his hometown in the rural part of Henan province as a child, he is still shocked by the degree of flooding in Zhengzhou, which is the capital of the province. “I saw a lot of water coming up from the underground drainage and the water current was so strong that the manhole covers were all swept away,” he told The Independent.
Kao is not the only one shocked by the terrifying scenes that he saw. Wang Qiaoling, the wife of prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping, posted a video on Twitter, showing her sitting in a car trying to drive out of the city. Other cars were frantically trying to not be stranded by flood, but some cars simply stopped moving in the middle of the road.
Other videos on social media show dozens of cars completely submerged in the muddy water and several passengers stranded in a flooded subway train, submerged up to their shoulders in water. In another dramatic scene captured on camera, a woman was seen struggling to get out of the muddy water while three men tried to save her by offering her a stick. She was eventually able to grab the stick and was pulled out of the water.
By Wednesday morning, water had gradually subsided from the eastern side of Zhengzhou, which was heavily impacted by the flood, according to Kao. “The rain has become a lot smaller but the transportation system between Zhengzhou and other parts of China hasn’t been fully restored,” he said.
What caused the flood?
Some have attributed the cause of the dramatic flooding to the record-breaking amount of rain that has fallen down in Zhengzhou City since Saturday. Some 617.1 millimetres of rain was recorded, which is almost the same as its annual average of 640.8mm.
Meteorologists in China claim that typhoon Yanhua, which is approaching the southern province of Fujian, and the topography of the region may be the main cause of the excessive amount of rainfall.
“When the airflow hits the mountains in Henan, it converges and shoots upward which causes rainfall to be concentrated in this region,” wrote the Global Times.
However, others believe the ineffective drainage system in the city has caused the flooding to be more severe than it ought to have been. Kao said although there are drainage systems underneath each district, whenever the city experiences heavy rain, many districts experience difficulty draining the water after the rain has subsided.
“I definitely have concerns about the drainage system in Zhengzhou, but I think this is a common phenomenon across cities in China,” he told The Independent. “I have reservations about whether the government will improve the drainage-related issues as soon as possible, because in January 2018 the local government claimed that Zhengzhou is a ‘sponge city’ because the underground drainage system could soak up all the water,” he said.
“However, when a serious natural disaster happens, the city still experiences serious flooding and the drainage system doesn’t solve any of the issues,” Kao added.
Some have criticised the local government in Zhengzhou for failing to give residents enough warning following the four rainstorm warning signals issued by the Zhengzhou Meteorological Station on Tuesday.
Another lawyer, surnamed Wang, said local authorities should have suspended subway services and taken other measures to prevent people from moving towards parts of the city that were heavily flooded. “A lot of vehicle damage and [deaths] could have been prevented if the local government had been vigilant enough with enforcing preventative rules,” he said.
Kao thinks residents in Zhengzhou should avoid taking subways on days with extreme weathers and try to enforce self-protection. “I don’t think these problems will disappear anytime soon,” he said.