Cheating death in flooded Jingguang Road tunnel
Several days after their close brush with death, Yang Junkui and Hou Wenchao were able to recall the petrifying one-hour experience in the Jingguang North Road tunnel, in a relatively calm manner.
Spanning 1.8 km, Jingguang North Road tunnel is part of Jingguang Expressway, one of the major city thoroughfares in central China's Zhengzhou City which was lashed by record rainstorms on July 20.
Located near the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University and Zhengzhou Railway Station, the tunnel always witnesses bustling traffic, especially in rush hours.
From 4 pm to 5 pm on July 20, the tunnel was flooded by torrential rains in dozens of minutes, trapping many vehicles and people. Yang and Hou were among them.
For Yang, a ride-hailing driver, the tunnel could not be more familiar to him. He had never imagined that he could have such a close brush with death there.
At about 4 pm, when the rainstorm started to get severer, Yang and Hou drove along the expressway from north to south and entered the tunnel.
With less traffic in the tunnel, Yang encountered no congestion until he was near the southern exit. "It was about 4:10 pm, I did not see waterlogging in the tunnel," recalled Yang.
Around the same time, Hou also got stuck in the traffic near the southern exit, without seeing ponding in the tunnel.
"For the next 20 minutes, the traffic barely moved at all," Yang said. "All of a sudden, water began to flow down into the tunnel, alarming the drivers. They were knocking on the windshield and asking people to get off their cars."
Hou, who experienced a similar situation in Beijing in 2012, was one among them. He sensed the danger earlier than others. He knew that if the water level in the tunnel continue to rise, the drivers would be trapped in their own cars.
Hou left his car when the water level in the tunnel reached the lower edge of his car door. On his way out he kept persuading others to leave the tunnel before it is too late.
However, Yang hesitated to abandon his car, as it was his source of livelihood.
But the flood did not give him time to think twice. Ten minutes later, water began seeping into his car.
"The water flow was so strong that I could feel my car almost floating," Yang said, recalling the daunting encounter.
At around 4:40 pm, Yang made up his mind and left the car, walking out of the tunnel with other people who had abandoned their vehicles as well.
He estimated that there were about 150 cars in front of him and 40 to 50 cars behind. When he left, some people were still trying to take their chances.
Hou still remembers the old lady who refused to leave the car, newly purchased by her son. Fortunately, Hou was able to drag her out of the car with the help of her family.
"It took me more than 20 minutes to get out of the tunnel," said Hou, who persuaded a lot of people to leave vehicles for lives on his way out, adding that if casualties were caused by his inaction, it would make him feel guilty.
The way out of the tunnel was also marred by unexpected risks, even if people chose to give up their vehicles.
As the water level in the tunnel rose drastically, two men and three women were trapped beside a partially submerged car, crying out for help.
Leaving his cell phone to other people, Yang jumped into the water without hesitation to save them.
With all his strength, Yang swam toward them wrestling against strong torrents and pushed the three women to the top of the vehicle to prevent them from sinking.
In an instant, the car sank into the bottom of the water, leaving them struggling in despair. Yang tried his best, but could only hold one of them and grasp one pipe fixed on the tunnel wall.
An exhausted Yang could not control his body any longer and sank into the water.
It took him five seconds to struggle and raise his head above the surface of the water.
Fortunately, more people joined in the rescue and saved all of them.
After reaching the ground, Yang rested for about 10 minutes to catch his breath. "I didn't leave until I saw there was no one in the water. I was probably the last to leave," he said, adding that the tunnel was full to its brim with water and looked "like an endless river."
Hou said that the tunnel was totally flooded in about 30 minutes after he left his car. "When I withdrew, there was perhaps no one left. The flooded tunnel looked like a river. If someone floats there, it would have been evident," he added.
On that fateful day, many people like Yang and Hou not only left the tunnel safe and sound but also pulled other people to safety at full stretch.
It wasn't until his son came across the video of him saving people on the Internet that Yang revealed to his family his horrifying experience in the Jingguang North Road tunnel.
Clearing of the mud is still underway at the tunnel and it is expected to get back to its flourishing normality soon.
The rescuers, victims, and the moments of heartquake in the tunnel will certainly remain etched in the memories of people for long.