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China flooding caused fear and then washed away livelihoods

The market was filled with chest-high water when the skies cleared. Yu and her husband were trapped for two days, with little to eat except a few packets of instant noodles.

Yu, standing in her family's warehouse in Xinxiang (a city of six millions people in central China's Henan Province), said that it was the most water she'd ever seen.

Last week's torrential rains flooded Henan, causing large areas of the province to be submerged in water. A year's worth rain fell in three days in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital. The death toll rose sharply to 99 on Thursday, according to authorities.

After a drenching Zhengzhou where many drowned in the subway cars and their cars, clouds moved north to Xinxiang. The city was carved into islands by the torrential rains that pelted it overnight on July 21.

Yu estimates that their losses could be as high as tens of thousands of Dollars due to their spoiled pickled vegetables, and the damage to their electric wagon. This is a huge sum for a city with an average annual income of $8,000.

The province's heavily agricultural economy is expected to suffer devastating economic losses of nearly 90 billion Yuan ($14 billion).

"If the market water had been drained on the day following the rain, we wouldn't have suffered such huge losses." Yu said, "It's been a week and the water hasn't been pumped out." She leaned her elbow on pickled mustard greens that she and her husband had saved.

Lu Jinlin, her husband, remembered his mother telling him about a similar downpour in 1963. He said that although the rains were not as severe, the water was able to sweep away their earthen homes. Back then, there were no rescue teams.

Because they now live in concrete and squat homes, this time the cost in lost lives was lower.

Xinxiang has not yet confirmed any deaths, however many villages around it remain submerged. The recovery work is ongoing. The floodwater is churned out by pumps, and the people are transported down the roads by bulldozers, who ferry them across the water in their shovels.

Although rescue efforts have been widely praised, there are still questions about the government’s storm preparedness and how many people were caught unaware.

The authorities have closely controlled the reporting about the floods. Some critical reports by Chinese media were quickly deleted by the Censors, while vicious social-media campaigns targeted foreign journalists.

One shopkeeper refused to be interviewed, but he did make a nervous chuckle. He said, "I don't dare."

Yu's stall is located in the Yubei Agricultural and Aquatic Products World Market, which has waters still below knee-deep. Shopkeepers who were able to have their stalls raised above the water level washed out and cleaned their tables and fridges. The less fortunate were able to salvage what little they could from their damaged goods.

One vendor wrapped a bunch of cups in a plastic bag and placed it in the back of a semi-submerged pickup truck. The merchandise was then carried by a young man to a nearby cart. In murky water, cigarette butts and plastic foam swirled around her legs. It smelled like rotting fish.

She estimated her losses at tens to thousands of dollars. This is her second flood-related loss. In 2016, heavy rains also destroyed her property.

She said, "I've had terrible luck," "All of our family fortunes are soaked in water."

After a man stood next to her, she decided to keep her name, Xing, to avoid speaking to the media.

Sun Jiayun (72), hangs rubber gloves from branches and fan the soles of his shoes on the hot asphalt. As they dry, the pages of once-pristine notebooks curl under the afternoon sun.

Sun stated that no one will buy her goods. She said, "Who would pay for these items?" But she is drying them out so she can give them away to her friends.

A few blocks away, Mr. Bao's Fried Chicken was almost unharmed due to its slightly elevated location. Wang, the cashier at Mr. Bao's Fried Chicken, was reluctant to give her last name because she is concerned about her privacy. Wang recalled the panicked days spent trying to coordinate her nephew and niece's rescue.

Their parents remained in their store, with the water rising to their necks, and they were left home all by themselves. As she coordinated their rescue, Wang exchanged messages with rescuers on the internet.

Wang hosted more than 12 relatives and friends who were unable to return home to their flood-damaged homes for days. She said they slept in a four- or five-person bed, which was a great relief after the flood panic.

She cried, unable to describe the feeling. It's okay so long as I can see my children, as long they are still alive.

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