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In Just 3 Days, An Entire Year's Worth Of Rain Has Fallen On Zhengzhou, China

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In just three days, a year's worth of rain has fallen on Zhengzhou, a city of 12 million in central China. The resulting flooding in the region has killed at least 56 people so far, and the rain has not stopped yet. NPR's Emily Feng is in Zhengzhou covering this story.

Hey, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So when did this start? And did people know it was coming? Were there warning signs?

FENG: The rain really started pouring this Tuesday afternoon. It caught people pretty much completely by surprise. And many of them were coming home from work, so some people actually got into the underground metro, and they drowned when those cars flooded. I talked to one store owner named Ms. Liu. She did not want to use her full name. She thankfully was in her store, which she owns, that was above ground at the time.

LIU: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: She's saying the water rose so quickly, there was no way to leave her store. The water came rushing in the street, and it grew to about the level of her chest. And you can hear the generator behind her, which is pumping water out of her store basement.

KELLY: Yeah.

FENG: So Ms. Liu just sat in her tiny store that night for basically the entire night. The store is only about the size of a large closet, and she had nothing but these two glass doors between her and the water in the street. Other people were not so lucky. Ms. Liu was just steps away from a traffic tunnel that was completely submerged, and an unknown number of drivers drowned inside. Also nearby the tunnel, I found Wang Ana, who is a restaurant owner. She was cleaning up the mud from her store at the time. She also got stuck at work that night, but she made it home, and here's how.

WANG ANA: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: She's saying she took a broom handle, and she and her son held it together horizontally so they could steady themselves. And then they walked like that against the fast current. And while she was on her way home, she said she met about two dozen strangers, and they linked their arms together, and they just walked that way upstream so no one would get washed away.

KELLY: And what does it look like there now, Emily? Is the city still underwater?

FENG: Yeah, much of it's still ankle-deep in water. There are large parts of the city that do not have power, don't have running water. About 100,000 people have been temporarily relocated from the most dangerous zones. A lot of the impact in the city - it comes down to manmade construction, actually. Some of the roads in the city were once streams, and they were filled in decades ago. But the floodwaters just washed away that soil and that pavement, and it created these huge fissures. And I saw dozens of cars and buses that had just fallen into these holes. But the resilience of the people of the city is coming through. It's already in recovery mode. There were street vendors out tonight, particularly in districts where there were no power and no running stores yet. We spent a night with a volunteer rescue team who drove in from hundreds of miles away so they could power life rafts and donate food. And accompanying them were hundreds of local residents who had come in to help with supplies.

KELLY: You know, I'm thinking we also have been reporting on unusual and deadly flooding in Germany this summer. And now here you are reporting from a part of China that doesn't usually get anything like this much rain. Is the flooding there in China linked to climate change? Do we know?

FENG: There's been very little discussion in state media in China that links this flooding with climate change. People are mostly calling it extreme weather. But everyone you speak to in Zhengzhou says they've never seen rains like this. And according to the meteorological record, it's the heaviest rain the city's seen in 60 years from these unusually slow-moving storms. And the storms aren't done yet. They've just simply shifted north, and they're dumping more record-setting rain on another city, Xinxiang (ph), with 1.3 million people. There are thousands of villagers there right now around the city who are in desperate need of rescue and food and shelter. And so that's where I am going to head tomorrow.

KELLY: Ah, where you're headed tomorrow. OK, good luck, and stay safe.

FENG: Thanks.

KELLY: That's NPR's Emily Feng reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.