At least 12 people have been confirmed dead in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, where more than 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) of rain fell in one hour on Tuesday, according to China’s meteorological observatory.
All of the bodies recovered were taken from the city’s subway system, said provincial authorities.
And in the nearby city of Gongyi, at least four people were reported to have died, as flood waters swept through residential areas, forcing more than 20,000 people to leave their homes.
Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the flooding Wednesday, describing the situation as “very severe” and ordering authorities to “prioritize the safety of people’s lives and property,” state news agency Xinhua reported.
Though flooding during the summer months is an annual occurrence in parts of China, recent record-breaking rains have alarmed scientists and officials, raising questions as to whether the country is prepared to deal with more extreme and unpredictable weather amplified by climate change.
‘I can’t speak anymore, please help’
“The water inside the carriage has reached chest-levels! I already can’t speak anymore, please help!” wrote one woman, who went by the name Xiaopei.
Minutes later, she posted another comment: “If no rescue comes in 20 minutes, several hundred of us will lose our lives in Zhengzhou subway.” The fire department later confirmed Xiaopei had been rescued.
Other videos showed residents on the street, water up to their hips, working desperately to pull out people trapped in an underground mall using ropes. Others showed people making a human chain, to prevent being swept away by the current as they struggled through rushing water.
The heavy rains also caused power outages across the city. One hospital, housing nearly 10,000 patients, faced a complete blackout Tuesday, with social media photos showing its first floor submerged in water.
The report also said if global greenhouse emissions peak around 2040, some parts of China like Shanghai would experience a more than 25% increase in extreme rainfall — while other areas, like northwestern Guangzhou-Shenzhen, would see more drought.
Though the rains have since eased, problems are likely to persist, as dozens of dams and reservoirs have breached warning levels.
Xinhua reported on Wednesday afternoon that “a large section of the downstream slope of the dam has crumbled, but the dam itself has not collapsed.”
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