A catastrophic flood in Henan occurred last July 17–23, 2021. Many died, but it was recently found out that the reported numbers weren’t telling the whole story.
Officials did not report 139 deaths and missing cases due to the flood in Henan.
At that time, reservoirs and riverbanks exceeded their capacity. Rain levels in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, went beyond 600 mm within 3 days. This is comparable to the amount of rainfall that the city experiences in one year. It created negative consequences for the public transportation system and roads, rendering them unsafe for use as they were flooded.
As the tunnels and trains were flooded, the water levels went as high as near the top of the train carriage. Because of this, there were 12 reported deaths in the Zhengzhou metro station. Similarly, a flooded road tunnel entrapped more than 100 cars. Six people died after being underwater and finding no escape.
Investigating the Flood in Henan
The state council went over the report of the incident. By doing so, they found new pieces of information that they were not happy with. The state council then decided that officials of the provincial and local governments are “guilty of negligence and dereliction of duty, especially considering the casualties in the subway and the tunnel that were not supposed to take place”.
The investigators of the flood in Henan said that the local officials, despite being warned of the unusual levels of rainfall expected, did not foresee the risk that it could have brought. They did not think quickly enough or prepare adequately for what they were told.
The official death toll due to the flood in Henan, as reported by the city officials last year, was 302 individuals. 50 individuals were reported to have been missing.
However, the state council found out that 139 deaths and missing cases were not accounted for.
This was not an honest mistake. Rather, officials in Henan intentionally did not include the aforementioned number of cases.
Based on the investigation of the state council, the unreported cases of deaths and missing persons are as follows: “75 in Zhengzhou city, 49 in the counties, and 15 in townships”. With this, the state council declared that there were 398 deaths. As many as 378 deaths occurred in Zhengzhou.
Furthermore, it was also found that, in Xingyang, there were 23 deaths due to the mudslides and flooding. In Dengfeng, five people died after an explosion. The mudslide, flood, and explosion were due to the unusual heavy rainfall.
Officials in the party and local governments claimed last year that the deaths due to the catastrophic events that followed the flood were due to the flood itself. They were not honest in reporting that the deaths were actually due to the mudslide, flood, and explosion. The budget that was supposedly allocated for activities for rehabilitation was used inappropriately since government officials spent some of it on paying the families of those who died.
Investigators state that even if the environmental disasters did occur because of the flood, deaths due to these conditions should still not be categorized as those occurring directly because of the flood.
As a result, 97 government officials now face the consequences of their wrong decisions. Eight officials are in the custody of the police, and 89 officials have been sanctioned.
Shortcomings of both party and local officials in the country are not taken lightly. They are given punishment not just for what they actually failed to do, but also for what others perceive them to have failed to do.
Preparation could have been done to prevent the devastating consequences of the flood. Local government officials are tasked with creating measures to ensure that floods are prevented and that when these disasters do occur, the necessary disaster relief activities are in place.
Different factors that could have been prevented caused the effects of the flood to be way more than what they should have been if only the situation was managed appropriately by the local government. The delayed construction of urban drainage, incohesive systems related to the management, warning, and response to emergencies, and insufficient risk awareness all contributed to the decreased resilience of the province against disasters.
Looking Back at What Happened during the Flood in Henan Last Year
The rainfall that occurred in Henan last year was claimed by the media as unlike anything that they had seen for the past 1,000 years.
Dam capacity and infrastructure integrity were being jeopardized. The Guojiazui reservoir and Yihetan dam were at risk of being destroyed due to the force of the increased water levels.
As heavy rain was pouring over such a short period of time, around 200,000 individuals residing in the province needed to be evacuated to ensure their safety. Others who were unable to evacuate experienced problems with their access to electricity since the lines had been damaged by the flood.
There were also numerous posts by individuals showing the gravity of the situation. Cars were floating, train carriages with people inside were filled with flood water, and people were doing the best that they could to save each other.
One of the survivors who experienced the flooding in the train station shared that “I was really scared, but the most terrifying thing was not the water, but the diminishing air supply in the carriage”.
However, not all were spared from the negative effects of the flood. The number of deaths and missing persons continuously increased over the days that followed.
Authorities Under Public Scrutiny for their Management of the Situation
Many did not agree with how the government handled the situation. Weather forecasts were not reflective of the true situation and the disaster alert system only caused confusion instead of helping citizens navigate through the heavy rainfall.
The decision to continue the operation of the train stations was also questioned. One resident of Zhengzhou shares that the Henan Meteorological Department supposedly released a statement warning the citizens of the risks that the rainfall could bring. However, many were unable to receive such information because it was not easily accessible on the internet. These messages were also marked as spam. As such, citizens did not give importance to the red alarm conveyed to them.
Some also believe that even if the flood in Henan could not have been prevented, efforts could have been made so that its effects would not have been so catastrophic. This includes halting the operation of train stations and conducting relief operations at a faster pace.
The citizens of China are not new to flooding, but this disaster was one of a kind. Climate change and rapid urbanization contributed to the gravity of the situation. Coupled with the lack of a proper response by the government, the aftermath would require much effort and resources to rehabilitate the area.