At least 12 people have died and 100,000 have been evacuated in Zhengzhou city, the capital of central China’s Henan province, after heavy rains led to large areas of the province being submerged in water.
Visuals posted on social media show flooded streets, submerged subway stations and people trapped in neck-high water inside subway trains. Entire vehicles were seen to be either covered in water or floating across flooded neighbourhoods.
The rain in the city was estimated by some weather forecasters to be the worst in at least 1,000 years, according to news agency Reuters.
The city, on the banks of the Yellow River, is home to at least 12 million people.
More than 200 millimetres of rain fell in one hour in the city on Tuesday, forcing train operators to halt services. Apart from Zhengzhou’s transport services, schools and hospital services were also badly affected.
The First Affiliated Hospital in the city – a large treatment centre with 7,000 beds – lost all power, including reserve. Efforts were ongoing on Wednesday to transport at least 600 critically ill patients from there to other hospitals, according to the People’s Daily.
The total rainfall that poured down on Zhengzhou from Saturday evening till Tuesday was recorded at 617.1mm, almost matching the annual average of 640.88mm.
Local media cited meteorologists as saying that the rain seen in over three days was seen only “once in a thousand years”.
Similar scenes of flooding were reported in the streets of at least a dozen other cities, as levels in reservoirs and dams across the province breached warning levels.
The lives of millions of people across Henan – a tourist and logistics hub – have been upended because the unusually active rainy season has led to the rivers in the Yellow River basin rising rapidly.
The Yihetan dam in Luoyang city west of Zhengzhou “could collapse at any time”, local authorities said overnight, according to Reuters.
Of Henan’s 4,098 rain measuring stations, 606 registered more than 250mm of precipitation since the weekend, the province’s chief weather forecaster told local media.
Henan’s tourist attractions have not been spared. The famous Shaolin temple to the north of Zhengzhou, known for its historical association with martial arts, was badly hit and has been temporarily shut, according to the Associated Press.
Similarly, the rising Yi river has threatened to hit the Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site that has old Buddhist statues etched in limestone.
Several of those stranded in the rain have been forced to sleep at their workplaces or check into hotels.
Wang Guirong, a 56-year-old restaurant manager, told AP she planned to sleep on a couch at her restaurant because there was no power in the neighbourhood she stays in.
“I have lived in Zhengzhou all my life and have never seen such a heavy rainstorm as today,” she said.