The Chinese army warned that a stricken dam in the centre of the country “could collapse at any time” after being severely damaged in torrential storms that killed at least three people and brought the region to a standstill.
Weather authorities have issued the highest warning level for central Henan province as downpours caused widespread disruption and the evacuation of residents of flooded streets.
On Tuesday evening, the regional unit of the People’s Liberation Army warned that the relentless downpour had caused a 20-metre (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”.
The PLA’s Central Theater Command said it had sent soldiers to carry out an emergency response including blasting and flood diversion.
“On July 20, a 20-meter breach occurred at the Yihetan dam … the riverbank was severely damaged and the dam may collapse at any time,” it said in the statement.
More than 10,000 residents of Henan province were moved to shelters, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The province, home to the Shaolin Temple and many other cultural sites, is one of China’s most populous and a major base for both industry and agriculture.
Floods are common during China’s rainy season, which cause annual chaos and wash away roads, crops and houses.
But the threat has worsened across the decades, due in part to widespread construction of dams and levees.
‘Never seen such heavy rainstorm’
In the Henan city of Zhengzhou, at least one person died and two more were missing since heavy rain began battering the city, according to the state-run People’s Daily, which reported that houses have collapsed.
Local media reported that two people died when a wall collapsed in another district of the city.
Some people were spending the night in their workplaces or checked into hotels.
Wang Guirong, a 56-year-old restaurant manager, said she planned to sleep on the couch in her restaurant after being told there was no power in her neighbourhood.
“I have lived in Zhengzhou all my life and have never seen such a heavy rainstorm as today,” Wang said.
The State Grid Zhengzhou Power Supply Co said a downtown substation was forced to shut down because of the rain.
According to the weather authorities, the rainfall was the highest recorded since record-keeping began 60 years ago as the city saw an average year’s worth of rainfall in just three days.
Authorities closed Zhengzhou’s flooded subway system and cancelled hundreds of flights.
Unverified videos on social media showed passengers in a flooded underground train carriage in Zhengzhou clinging to handles as the water inside surged to shoulder height, with some standing on seats.
On its official Weibo account, the fire service shared reports that passengers were being rescued from stranded trains, but did not post its own statement.
One passenger’s account said fire and rescue workers had opened a hole in the roof of her carriage and evacuated passengers one by one.
Footage showed one man sitting on top of his half-submerged car in an underpass.