Last Tuesday torrential rain battered Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan Province in Central China with 12 million residents.
That day the city was paralyzed and inundated with a record-high 624 millimeters of precipitation. As of yesterday, the whole province of Henan had reported 63 deaths – 12 of them losing their lives in Zhengzhou's metro cars and tunnels – and five missing.
Video clips shot on smartphones have displayed the great suffering of people in the flood-ravaged province. They have also shown that before the arrival of professional rescue forces, Henan people bravely rushed into inundated streets to help each other and at the risk of their own lives to even save strangers from deep water.
While mourning the lost lives and appreciating the brave actions of local people, it is important for the whole society to retrospect. Many experts attribute the cause of the rainstorms to extreme weather. It is certain that extreme weather and record high precipitation are the main reasons of the disaster. Nevertheless, could the local government have done better to minimize casualties in the disaster?
According to media reports, Zhengzhou Meteorological Observatory had successively issued red alerts five times as of last Tuesday. Generally speaking, all public transportation, school, work and businesses should be suspended after receiving a red alert. However, Zhengzhou's metro system was still in operation after meteorological warnings. Had any of the meteorological warnings of severe rainfall been taken seriously by the local government, I think the casualties in Henan could have been minimized.
The flood has also exposed loopholes in the design of our metro systems. When water rushed into the metro cars, water levels in sealed cabins increased quickly. Some passengers, especially pregnant women and children, fainted and even died because of hypoxia, the lack of oxygen. It is not the first time that inundation happened in metro stations under the ground. This is also a strong proof that ventilation and emergency escape channels atop the metro cars are very important factors in the further upgrading of China's metro systems.
Moreover, following incessant heavy rainfall and deluge in Henan, some geological and other secondary disasters such as landslides, mud-rock flows and infectious diseases are prone to occur. Local governments in Henan should take pains to curb outdoor activities in affected regions, evacuate and relocate residents in inundated areas, ensure safe drinking water and qualified sanitation, and provide more clothes, tents, makeshift shelters and other daily necessities to needy families.
Originally, floods could only be seen in coastal Chinese cities which were easily affected by typhoons. However, due to climate change and global warming in recent years, extreme weather conditions such as floods and cyclones have also appeared in central and inland cities such as Wuhan and Zhengzhou this year. With the flood in Zhengzhou as a warning, provinces and cities in inland China should also enhance their ability to respond to such emergency situations, monitor weather changes and flooding closely, issue forecasts and alerts in a timely manner, pinpoint problematic spots along important rivers and pay special attention to reservoir safety.
The awareness of self-protection and self-rescue in a proper way should be emphasized and even introduced into China's school curricula. Calmness and order are important in dealing with emergency situations. The 500-plus passengers trapped in Zhengzhou metro cars last week were basically in good order and showed their strength and calmness even when water levels rose to their chests and necks. Some of them posted the video recordings on WeChat and other social media platforms for help, some made way for sick and disabled passengers and carried them to higher places. When the water level kept rising, someone tried to smash the window recklessly, but other passengers stopped him from doing so until the arrival of rescue teams.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)