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Floods in China: death toll rises to 302, as Covid epidemic complicates recovery




CNN

The toll from the floods that ravaged central China last month now stands at 302, local authorities said on Monday, more than triple the latest estimate.

Heavy rains hit Henan Province on July 20, causing flooding in many cities. Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of 12 million people, has been one of the hardest-hit areas, with entire neighborhoods submerged and passengers trapped in flooded subway cars.

A total of 50 people are still missing across Henan, the vast majority of them from Zhengzhou, Wu Guoding, vice-governor of the province, said Monday at a press conference.

Noel Celis / AFP / Getty Images

Rescuers paddle a flooded street in Zhengzhou, China on July 23.

Of the total deaths, 292 were from Zhengzhou, Wu said. Most were killed by floods and landslides, while several dozen were killed by house collapses and 39 others drowned in spaces. underground, including basements and garages.

Of the drowning deaths, 14 died in a flooded subway line, where many passengers were stranded in subway cars up to their necks in flood water, as rapid currents passed through the network of underground tunnels .

Dramatic videos showing people clinging to ceiling handles to keep their heads above water shocked the nation and made headlines around the world. More than 500 passengers were evacuated from the metro line, authorities said several days after the first floods.

Six more deaths occurred in a road tunnel that had been completely flooded, trapping passengers in their cars inside. Rescue teams spent days pumping floodwater from the tunnel in downtown Zhengzhou.

Floods in China: death toll rises to 302, as Covid epidemic complicates recovery

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A flooded subway station in Zhengzhou, China on July 21.

In a statement released on Monday, the Chinese State Council said it was setting up a team to “investigate and assess” the floods and deaths. The team will examine whether there was “dereliction of duty” and “hold people accountable in accordance with laws and regulations,” the statement said.

The flooding has also affected smaller towns and villages, with rivers swelling beyond alert levels and many reservoirs overflowing, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, according to state media. The severity of the flooding was captured by numerous videos shared on Chinese social media, which showed people and cars being swept away by breaking torrents.

A coronavirus outbreak has compounded the challenges Zhengzhou faces as the city struggles to recover from the devastating floods.

Zhengzhou reported 13 locally transmitted symptomatic cases and 50 asymptomatic cases on Monday, which are counted separately, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Most cases are linked to an outbreak in a hospital, where janitors, medical staff and patients are among those infected. Only a few of the confirmed cases in Zhengzhou have no clear connection to the hospital – but they live near or have traveled to the vicinity of the hospital, according to state media Global Times.

Genomic sequencing has confirmed that Zhengzhou’s cases are infected with the highly transmissible Delta variant – which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned last week could spread as easily as chickenpox, even among fully vaccinated people.

As authorities continue efforts to clean up, search and rescue and investigate the floods, they must now also launch a mass testing effort for all residents, according to Global Times.

It is not clear whether the Zhengzhou outbreak is linked to another cluster of Delta infections in the eastern city of Nanjing, which has spread nationwide in the past two weeks.

The ongoing outbreak – China’s worst in months – began in late July when nine cleaners at Nanjing airport were found to be infected during a routine test. Since then, locally transmitted Covid cases have been reported in at least 16 provinces across China, including a tourist hotspot in the southern province of Hunan and the capital Beijing.

The country reported 90 new symptomatic cases and 23 asymptomatic cases on Tuesday, according to the National Health Commission. Most of the infections have been confirmed to be the Delta variant, according to health officials at various regional press conferences.

Millions of people are now subject to movement restrictions. Nanjing has launched several rounds of mass tests for its 9.3 million residents and has locked down residential complexes with confirmed cases. Public spaces like bars, gymnasiums and libraries are closed.

Similar measures and partial closures were put in place in Zhangjiajie city, where a theatrical performance with thousands of attendees fueled concerns over a super-broadcaster event. Restrictions have also intensified in the national capital Beijing, which has barred entry to people from medium or high risk areas.

CNN’s Beijing office contributed reporting.

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