The Chinese army warned that a stricken dam in central Henan province “could collapse at any time” after being severely damaged in torrential storms that killed at least 12 people and forced tens of thousands to evacuate.
Weather authorities for Henan and Zhengzhou, the state capital, raised the emergency response to the heavy rain to the highest level, with forecasts predicting the heavy rain would continue until Wednesday night.
Storms have battered Henan province since the weekend in an unusually active rainy season that has caused rivers to burst their banks, flooding the streets of a dozen cities and upending daily lives of millions of people. Weather authorities in Zhengzhou say the rainfall was the highest since record-keeping began 60 years ago with the city seeing an average year’s worth of rainfall in just three days.
Overnight, authorities warned the deluge had created 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 Theatre Command said it had sent soldiers to carry out an emergency response including blasting and flood diversion.
“On July 20, a 20-metre breach occurred at the Yihetan dam … the riverbank was severely damaged and the dam may collapse at any time,” it said in the statement.
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, but the threat has worsened across the decades, due in part to widespread construction of dams and levees.
‘Never seen such heavy rainstorm’
In Zhengzhou, at least 12 people were reported dead, according to state news agency Xinhua, citing local officials. Another state-run outlet, People’s Daily, said that houses had collapsed.
Some people spent the night in their workplaces or 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 it was forced to shutdown a city substation because of the rain.
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.