Flood deaths in China show road risks from climate change

ZHENGZHOU, China – More than 200 cars were stuck in a road tunnel in the center on Tuesday China when record rains drenched the region....


ZHENGZHOU, China – More than 200 cars were stuck in a road tunnel in the center on Tuesday China when record rains drenched the region. Torrents of water poured into the tunnel entrances, filling it almost to the ceiling.

The death toll that day would likely have been higher if it hadn’t been for a semi-retired special forces commando who swam back and forth among the colliding vehicles to rescue the colliding drivers. drown as their cars filled with water and sank. Authorities are still clearing the tunnel and said at least four people have died.

Initially, international attention transport safety risks associated with extreme weather conditions focused on drownings in a subway tunnel which filled with water during the same downpour in Zhengzhou, in Henan province (central China). But deaths from flooding in road tunnels highlight the risks climate change can also pose to motorists, transport safety experts said at the weekend.

Indeed, the deaths show that highway engineers, like designers of subway systems, will have to deal with the more intense precipitation associated with climate change, said Kara M. Kockelman, professor of transportation engineering at the University of Texas. in Austin.

A road tunnel “can really fill like a bathtub in some of this torrential rain,” she said, “and it’s going to get worse because of the climate catastrophe.”

In 2011, a group of Chinese experts released a technical document pointing out that the Zhengzhou tunnel, which was still under construction, was in a low-lying area where pools of standing water frequently formed in the streets. The tunnel opened in 2012.

It was built with a pumping system designed to handle as much rain as it would fall once every 50 years. But authorities have since described Tuesday’s flood as, in theory, a one-time event in at least 1,000 years.

“If water collects in the tunnel,” the technical document warned, “it will seriously threaten the safe operation of the tunnel.”

The municipal government in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, said on Saturday that another body was found in the metro tunnel, bringing the official death toll in the metro flood to 13. Overall, the death toll in the province has risen to 58, and five people have been reported missing.

As the bright Saturday sun dried the streets of Zhengzhou, many communities in northern Henan Province continued to face flooding. “Some villages are besieged by the floods and have to evacuate a large number of people,” Guo Huajie, chief engineer of the Henan fire and rescue services, told a government press conference on Saturday.

The road tunnel debacle could easily have been much worse, as 200 to 300 cars were stranded by the rapidly rising waters.

But a man in a white shirt, who was filmed by onlookers as he confidently swam among the sinking cars on Tuesday, put motorists to safety. He was identified by local media and his employer on Friday night as Yang Junkui, a former People’s Liberation Army commando.

Mr. Yang, 45, told news agencies in Shanghai that he received automated cell phone warnings of heavy rain from the government and his employer early Tuesday afternoon, so he began to return home. at home after working as a driver for Caocao, a ridesharing company like Uber.

He was walking through the tunnel when it started to fill with water and the traffic stopped, and got out of his own car as the water hit the axles, just before the cars around him started to pour. float. He started knocking on the doors of other drivers, telling them to get out of their vehicles and took them to safety.

Three women who apparently could not swim were abandoned nearby on the roof of a sinking car, as two men left them and went to safety. Mr. Yang jumped into the water and pulled the women out, one by one. He then tried, unsuccessfully, to rescue other motorists, but backed up after injuring his leg.

“I didn’t hesitate or be scared, but after coming to the side, I’ve been a little scared for the past two days,” he told Jiemian, a Shanghai news agency. .

Mr. Yang agreed to an interview early on Saturday afternoon, but canceled at the last moment. Caocao said he ran home to his home village north of Zhengzhou because he was about to be partially inundated by a controlled release of water from a reservoir.

Similar controlled releases have been used in 1993 during the Mississippi floods in the Midwest to ease the pressure on dams when the water behind them became dangerously high.

Just two months ago, the government of Henan Province was promoting its investment in the “smart tunnel” in the same kilometer-long four-lane road tunnel that was flooded on Tuesday. Sensors could be used to accurately track and locate any person or vehicle, and to closely monitor tunnel water pumps. An artificial intelligence system could be used to instantly analyze problems and suggest solutions.

The road tunnels, including the one in Zhengzhou, are built with their own pumping systems. But extreme downpours like last week’s, in which eight inches of rain fell in a single hour, pose formidable challenges for road designers.

In order to function, such pumping systems must be able to move the water to a location that is not under the water itself. Zhengzhou is almost flat and slow to flow. The whole street at the southern end of the tunnel was filled with water several meters deep.

Dr Kockelman said any investigation into what went wrong in Zhengzhou should examine whether the pump outlet point has been submerged. This could cause the water flow through the pumps to change direction and fill the tunnel.

Liu Chunge, owner of a small grocery store located two steps above the sidewalk next to the south end of the tunnel, said the water in the streets was rising rapidly. She was soon calf inside her store.

The freezer from which she sells ice cream began to float, so she loaded drink bottles on it to force it to fall back to the floor.

“I have never experienced such a severe flood,” said Ms. Liu, 50. “In previous floods, the water had never risen above the two steps.

Zhengzhou officials have held three press conferences since the tunnel flooding, but they have yet to directly explain what happened.

Local authorities struggled to remove water from the road tunnel. On Friday afternoon, they were running a pair of pumps almost the size of commercial jet engines attached to bright red suction trucks the size of a fire engine at the south end of the tunnel. But the muddy water was still deep enough in the tunnel that only the roof of a white car inside was visible.

Several workers maneuvered a large yellow tow truck to try to pull a black van covered in mud from the exit of the tunnel. The van had its rear wheels on a highway median nearly three feet high, and its driver’s door was open. Five other mud-soaked cars and vans lay in the water nearby, including a dark blue Ford sedan with a white car on the roof.

Many Zhengzhou residents watched and filmed the work of the teams on Friday afternoon, and were sometimes chased away by some city police.

As for Mr. Yang, Caocao gave him a new $ 25,000 electric minivan on Friday night.

Li you, Claire Fu and Liu Yi contributed research.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Flood deaths in China show road risks from climate change
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