Search for China flood survivors turns desperate as Typhoon In-Fa hits east coast
It has been three days since Shang Jialing saw her 7-year-old son swept away in the floods that struck her hometown of Xinxiang. She hasn't given up hope, but each day that passes gets more difficult for her, she said - and more desperate.
"All these days, we have kept searching but we haven't found him," Shang, a 35-year-old factory worker, said over the phone from Xinxiang, in China's Henan province. "We've kept contacting the rescue team, the media, hoping that we can find him, but we haven't," she said, her voice choking with tears.
The painful search for survivors of China's flood disaster continued in Henan province Monday, as grief and shock turned to frustration among some of the survivors scouring the debris for their relatives. Online and in local news outlets, people shared dozens of accounts of missing friends and family, conflicting with official reports that said only five people were unaccounted for. In the hard-hit city of Zhengzhou, where people died in submerged subway cars, family members continued gathering outside the cordoned-off train stations for news of their loved ones, reluctant to leave.
"A lot of people are missing. A lot, a lot, a lot," said Zhao Yajie, who said at least eight of her relatives and neighbors in the villages outside Xingyang have not been found, including her sister's 88-year-old grandmother-in-law. There are also many elderly people whom no one is looking for, she added.
"They don't dare to report the truth," Zhao said, without specifying whom she was referring to. "They're suppressing the truth, making small things big and big things small."
With central China stricken by the flood disaster, those living along the east coast were facing a new challenge as Typhoon In-fa brought torrential rain and strong winds to the region.
In Shanghai, where heavy rainfall was expected to last through Monday, officials evacuated more than 300,000 residents living near the sea, closed some public amenities and urged people to stay home. Hundreds of flights were canceled, and several railway lines were suspended. In Zhejiang province, photos of residents wading through water circulated online as millions of households lost power.
In the wake of the downpour that ravaged Henan last week, state-run media said, government officials on the eastern coast have "vowed to be on their fullest guard against potential losses."
Henan officials said Monday that the death toll from the floods had climbed to 69, with five people missing, though many users online speculated that the number of people unaccounted for was far higher. Information compiled by the Paper, a Shanghai-based publication, listed more than two dozen missing as of Sunday, including Shang's son.
Shang said that on Friday, she, her two children, and some neighbors were being transported from their flooded homes on a rescue boat when it suddenly flipped over. Rescuers saved her 10-year-old daughter, but not her son, Wang Jiahang, who cannot swim. Rescuers said another boat would pick up the boy, Shang said, but as of Monday, she hadn't heard any news.
"We still have hope that we might be able to find him," she said.
Relatives of six other individuals listed as missing by the Paper confirmed to The Washington Post that their loved ones had not been found as of Monday, but they declined to answer further questions.
"Are these conservative estimates?" asked one of the top Weibo posts responding to the latest figures from authorities. "There have been reports of many people missing."
"My village has three missing and the neighboring village also has three," responded another user. "Don't know if they've been included."
China's Communist Party has historically sought to manage news around natural disasters, often omitting or suppressing the full extent of the devastation, especially if it reflects badly on the government's emergency preparedness or response.
In the wake of the Henan floods, which came days before the start of the Olympics in Tokyo as well as a high-profile meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials, state-run national media outlets have largely focused coverage on the efficiency of rescue efforts, the dedication of emergency responders and individual acts of support. On Weibo, news about Chinese companies donating supplies to the rescue effort have topped the trending charts two dozen times.
In the hard-hit city of Zhengzhou, where people died in submerged subway cars, several foreign journalists have gotten pushback for attempting to interview citizens still dealing with wreckage from the floods. After a group mobbed German reporter Mathias Boelinger on Saturday, alleging he was trying to "tarnish" China's reputation, the state-run Global Times released an editorial urging residents not to confront foreign reporters.
"Don't give them additional opportunities, material to attack China," it said.
In recent days, however, individual pleas for help and attempts to provide support have provided a glimpse into the devastation on the ground.
A Henan native set up a file on Tencent, which functions similarly to Google Sheets, creating lists of those in need and those offering help. The document has been widely circulated on Chinese social media platforms, getting millions of views and growing to include tabs that show the live status of those in need of medical help, safe locations for survivors to gather and requests for specific material items such as clothes and chargers.
More than 1,000 people have requested help through the file, said Li Rong, the 22-year-old student behind the document. Those from Zhengzhou are slowly being crossed out, but more are being added from surrounding cities like Xinxiang, where rainfall was more intense later in the week.