Flood-Hit Henan Struggles in Disaster Aftermath With More Rain Coming
Official media and spokespersons don't seem to be reporting the full extent of the damage and loss of life, local residents say.
As flood-stricken residents of the central Chinese province of Henan scrambled to clean up following disastrous flooding in and around the provincial capital Zhengzhou, the meteorology bureau warned of more heavy rains brought in by Typhoon In-Fa, which is predicted to make landfall at the weekend.
The official death toll from the floods, that came after a year's worth of rainfall fell on the region in six days, rose to 51 as rescuers struggled to reach villages cut off with no access to fresh food or water.
In Zhengzhou, which saw horrific scenes earlier this week as floods engulfed subway lines and busy city streets, washing away dozens of cars and dumping them in piles, firefighters were still pumping the muddy water from train tunnels.
Provincial officials told reporters Friday that the list of casualties will likely grow longer, while residents said the government isn't telling the whole truth.
"Just how many people are buried inside Jingguang Tunnel, how many relatives are missing, and are they still inside?" a Zhengzhou resident surnamed Hu told RFA on Friday.
"Many people are looking for their relatives, but stability maintenance teams are preventing them from getting anywhere near," he said. "Some of the worst-hit communities have been locked down, and residents aren't being allowed to go home."
"Maybe there are things they don't want people to know; maybe a lot of underground parking garages got flooded, and there are likely people in there too, who couldn't get out," Hu said.
Nearly half a million people have been evacuated from the region, many using temporary bridges across waters that reached the tops of trees.
Some residents said whole villages had been "flattened with nothing left," Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
A resident of Zhengzhou surnamed Yang said huge swathes of the city were without power or internet access on Thursday.
"The internet connection is poor, and keeps cutting out," Yang said. "There is no internet at all in some older parts of the city."
"There is still a lot of quite deep water in some places, but for now the rain clouds have moved on to places like Anyang and Xinxiang, where there is more serious flooding," she said.
Much not reported
A resident from a neighborhood near Zhengzhou University said there were many aspects of the flood disaster that hadn't been reported by the media at all.
"There was huge flooding around Zhengzhou University, around the Xifeng development zone campus, but it wasn't reported," the resident, who gave only a surname, Wang, said.
"I haven't seen any figures reported about the deaths and injuries that occurred there," she said. "They just mention power cuts, a lack of fresh water, and internet outages."
Horrifying social media video clips from inside subway trains and private vehicles, with turbulent, muddy water rising above chest height as the occupants watched anxiously made global headlines earlier this week.
But there were signs that the authorities may be clamping down on social media reporting of the floods, amid accusations from local residents that local officials were more concerned with covering up the number of casualties than with keeping residents safe.
'Picking quarrels, stirring up trouble'
Police in the high-tech crimes unit of the Anshan city police department in the northeastern province of Liaoning detained a man surnamed Wang on Thursday after he posted content to a group on the social media platform WeChat about the floods in Zhengzhou.
"Wang ... was handed 10 days' administrative detention for picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," the police statement said.
"We received a report from a member of the public that a user with the handle @Wang Dongting of Anshan E-vehicle Repairs had posted something to a WeChat group that was insulting to people in Henan, who have been hit with floods ... and which had a negative social impact," it said.
"We quickly launched an investigation and tracked down the suspect, Wang. Following investigation, Wang confessed to his illegal behavior," the statement said.
Meanwhile, authorities warned the deluge had created a 20-meter (66-foot) breach in the Yihetan dam in Luoyang – a city of approximately seven million people – with the risk that it "may collapse at any time."
Zhengzhou scholar Sun Fang said the government needs to take a long, hard look at its drainage systems and flood defenses.
"If they are going to discharge floodwater, they should do it outside of a city, not into a city," Sun said in reference to unconfirmed claims that the authorities had released floodwaters upstream of Zhengzhou to ease the pressure on a dam, but hadn't warned the population until after the event.
"I think it has something to do with a lack of consideration for urban planning and flood defenses, which should be the most basic kind of common sense," he said.
"Urban construction happens too fast, and many are prestige projects for local officials, who want to get it done quickly, but without thinking about safety," Sun told RFA in an interview on Thursday.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.