Homes in ruins, pulverised roads and a sea of mud coating cars, the once affluent central Chinese town of Mihe was still in shock Thursday as residents turned to food handouts and slept rough after record-breaking storms.
The death toll from the rain-triggered unprecedented floods in central China has risen to 56 with five people reported missing and the official estimated losses totalled about $10 billion, the state media reported on Friday.
The torrential rains, the heaviest in 1,000 years, have affected about three million people in Henan province and a total of 376,000 local residents have been relocated to safe places, the provincial emergency management department said.
The death toll from the torrential rains in central China's Henan province has risen to 56, with five people reported missing, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted local authorities as saying.
Rescue efforts including drainage operations are still underway at Jingguang Road tunnel in the provincial capital Zhengzhou, a waterlogged underpass where many vehicles had been trapped since Tuesday, according to the provincial emergency management department.
The department said there was still a large amount of water in the tunnel, where casualties have been reported. The exact number of casualties has yet to be confirmed.
The direct economic losses have gone up to 65.5 billion yuan ($10 billion), the state-run China Daily quoted local authorities as saying.
As Zhengzhou city of 12 million people limped back to normalcy, rescuers are assisting thousands of people caught in the floodwaters. On Thursday, officials raced to evacuate patients as hospitals were flooded by rainstorms. The patients were shifted to hospitals that escaped the flood fury.
Zhengzhou, meanwhile, downgraded its emergency response level as it continued to clean up after this week's devastating floods, but other parts of Henan province were bracing for more heavy rainfall, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
Zhengzhou was hit by several days of heavy rainfall, causing floods of an intensity not seen in decades.
Over 8,000 military personnel worked in 10 different danger zones around the city, Xinhua news agency reported.
Donation counters were set up around the city to distribute essential supplies after the panic-stricken residents bought supplies during the first days of the flood.
Meanwhile, fire crews have been touring the surrounding villages to help residents who have been injured or are trapped and were working throughout the day to drain the flooded roads.
Streets were turned into rushing rivers, washing away people and vehicles and apartments. Hundreds of cars washed away in floods have piled up in different parts of the city.
Devastated locals surveyed the damage as the rains finally subsided, treading carefully on smashed paving through tangles of collapsed electricity poles and wires.
"I've lost everything, it's all been washed away," said one middle-aged resident, before bursting into tears.
Many had barely eaten for days, with water, electricity and phone signal cut off.
"Mihe used to be a lively, prosperous town but now it's utterly ruined," a 22-year-old university student surnamed Du told AFP.
AFP was given rare access to join a rescue mission in stricken Henan province, joining a large team of volunteers that drove hundreds of miles through the night to offer help. With cars full of food, water and supplies, the Blue Sky Rescue team arrived at Mihe early Thursday.
Volunteer Wang Lang said they arrived in that town in response to calls from local firefighters about stranded residents, and worked with the authorities to "evacuate residents and recover bodies".
At least two people were killed in their homes in the area during the storms, they said, as calls kept coming in throughout the day of other fatalities -- including a girl trapped by a falling tree.
So far 33 deaths have been reported across Henan province during the floods, but the number is expected to rise as storms subside and rescue operations continue across a heavily populated area where communications have been severely disrupted.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the floods across Henan province, with farmland ruined by floodwaters and transport paralysed.
With many out of signal, a student from the province started an open-source spreadsheet for relatives to list lost or stranded loved ones. The list, shared on social media, quickly racked up hundreds of names.
As their work continued through Thursday, rescuers with shovels and helmets battled a thick layer of mud at least a foot deep, trying to return some sense of normality to reeling residents.
"When I first arrived here and saw villagers scavenging for corn cobs from the fields, I felt very sad," said one volunteer in his thirties, surnamed Zhou.
The smaller, one-storey houses were the worst hit, and Blue Sky helped to drive some of the elderly relatives out of the devastated town to higher ground.
Locals recounted stories of being pulled from flooded homes to safety, scrambling to higher floors and watching neighbouring houses come down in the onslaught.
"We couldn't evacuate in time because my elderly disabled grandma couldn't leave the house," said one 16-year-old school student surnamed Zhang, who said their house had completely flooded.
"I was pretty scared I'd drown."