How Record Rains and Officers Mistakes Led to Drowning on the Subway

Zhengzhou, China – The heaviest rain ever recorded in China fell like a mile-wide waterfall over the city of Zhengzhou on July 20, killing at least 300 people, including 14 who drowned in a subway tunnel.

Later, regional and national officials initially suggested that in the event of a storm of this intensity, there was little that could be done.

But an analysis of the reactions of officials that day, based on government documents, interviews with experts and news in China, showed that flaws in the subway system’s design and poor operation management accounted for nearly half of the deaths that day. China has led the tunnel. Definitely contribute.

Zhengzhou’s predicament is a lesson to other urban centers in an era of climate change – including New York, which closed its subway on Sept. 1 for less than half the heavy rain.

The floods highlight the challenges of global warming that have driven China’s development model for the past four decades. He researched the question of how well China’s cities and subways cope with the increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions. The Zhengzhou subway doesn’t open until Sunday.

“We humans need to learn to dance with wolves and survive extreme weather and climatic conditions because there is currently no better way to prevent this,” said Kong Feng, Associate Professor of Disaster and Emergency Management at China’s Beijing University. Not the way. ”

The Chinese government seems to have realized the mistakes made by the local authorities as well as the possibility of bad weather events returning to normal quickly. During a visit nearly a month after the floods, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned that the country must address any shortcomings in its willingness to “warn future generations.” According to an official statement, the government’s investigative team reported unspecified “violations” to law enforcement agencies.

The subject becomes politically sensitive. Publications criticizing the government’s actions have been removed from social media platforms. A Communist Party organization promoted the persecution of foreign journalists covering the disaster.

But the images and stories resonated in China before they disappeared. Deep in the subway tunnels, water streamed through the train windows like stormy brown rapids. When the water rises, the passengers have to fight for air.

“I feel like I’m waiting for death, although I don’t know if it will suffocate or drown,” said Zheng Yongle, a passenger trapped on a train on Line 5 to Zhengzhou.

The 14 deaths on Line 5 are just part of the devastation that temporarily displaced 1.4 million people, but they received a huge public response.

On the evening of July 19, the Zhengzhou Weather Service issued a series of alarms that continued into the next day. According to government regulations in Henan Province, including Zhengzhou, the warning should lead to the closure of all but the most essential. For reasons that are still unclear, the city did not issue such an order.

The rains ended with record overcast clouds on July 20. From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., the 7.95 inches of rain predicted by staff for the next three hours. The flooding compared an hourly peak of 3.15 inches in New York on Sept. 1 and similar extremes of rainfall during deadly floods in Tennessee on Aug. 21.

Christopher Burt, a weather historian at Weather Underground, a forecasting subsidiary of IBM, said it was the heaviest rainfall that could be reliably measured in the center of a major city in the world.

“Rainfall from Zhengzhou and Manhattan suggests that climate change means that current calculations of the frequency of heavy rains may no longer be valid,” he said.

Zhengzhou’s subway system, including pumps, drainage ditches and pipes, was designed to meet the central government’s drainage standards – but only for the type of storm that was foreseen. The odds should be one in 50. of any given year.

By contrast, meteorologists in Zhengzhou estimate the probability of an event similar to July at less than 1,000 each year – although China’s National Meteorological Agency warns the country only has reliable data from the early 1950s. There’s a note.

Kong of the Agricultural University of China said city officials had carried out emergency drills for major flooding but not for catastrophic flooding.

“There are hidden vulnerabilities in the city that were never discovered until this disaster,” he said.

One weak point in the metro system, officials say, is a wall built in an area the city identified as prone to flooding more than a decade ago. The wall stood next to the maintenance yard and at the foot of the slope. A six-lane walkway descends the slopes of a series of 30-story residential towers.