07/27/2021, 12.46
CHINA
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Henan floods: up to 10 thousand victims

by Li Qiang

Local sources: 50 villages suberged by water; many missing. Aid is concentrated in large cities. Suburbs and rural areas neglected. Army stationed around most affected areas to prevent access to journalists, especially foreign ones. Fatal delays reminiscent of Covid-19 in Wuhan.

Zhengzhou (AsiaNews) - The number of victims from the floods which swept Henan in the past week, could hit up to 10 thousand dead, according to several local sources.

"The maths is easy," says one local source who wishes to remain anonymous: "In the Xinxiang area at least 50 villages have been completely submerged under water and people are missing. Rescue forces are working hard in the big cities like the provincial capital, but no one is coming to the suburbs and villages in the countryside."

Indeed, in Zhengzhou, seven days after the torrential rains - more than 600 mm of water fell in just a few hours, nearly the entire annual amount of rain - the city is resurfacing and coming back to life. Electricity, gas, road transport have been restored.

This, is not the case in the villages, where there are still houses under water up to the second floor, with bodies floating and rotting. There is no light, gas, drinking water, telephone lines: it is even impossible to cook instant noodles due to the lack of hot water and people have been without food for days.

Zhengzhou is also struggling with the death toll. The authority’s calculations - reported today by the Chinese Communist Party Global Times - put the dead by yesterday at noon at 69, with five missing. At least 12 of them died in the subway (see photo), where the water flooded the tunnels and penetrated the carriages up to eye level. Authorities point out that more than 500 people have been rescued.

The subway is barricaded and the army alone has the task of cleaning up the tunnels. In front of the subway doors, people have deposited hundreds of bouquets of flowers for the dead, which the authorities have taken care to hide with yellow plastic screens.

Other doubts about the death toll come from the disaster at the Jingguang tunnel, which was flooded by water during rush hour. In a few minutes the water covered everything, giving perhaps only the drivers of the first and last vehicles the chance to save themselves.

The tunnel is at least two kilometres long. It is not known how many perished inside. Again, the only ones who have the right to enter and clean up the tunnel are soldiers. So far they have extracted 249 vehicles. Witnesses say that entire buses have been dragged into the light, with their windows shielded so that the horrific sight inside cannot be seen.

On social media, many critical comments are censored; netizens are urged not to criticize too much to avoid being "manipulated by hostile foreign forces." Foreign journalists, such as those from the BBC and Deutsche Welle have been criticized and threatened; others are being kept away from sensitive locations thanks to police deployment.

The fact remains it was an exceptional event, but it is equally true that the authorities were slow to sound the alarm, waiting until 5 pm on July 20, when by then the water had flooded and invaded many areas of the province.

According to some, the struggle over the number of dead in the disaster will have the same fate as those in Wuhan, who were killed by the coronavirus. Even then, the authorities delayed (for almost two months) the epidemic alarm; even then the official death toll was minimal (3,900), while the calculation of the cemetery urns in the city epicentre of the virus brought the deaths to over 40 thousand.

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