Another leaked directive instructed government workers to go door-to-door around the tunnel and warn shopkeepers: "Heighten awareness, do not accept foreign media interviews, do not give them any possibilities to twist the truth. If any relevant situation happens, report to the district workers or call the police."
The Los Angeles Times was unable to verify the directive, but foreign reporters from at least five different media outlets were harassed while reporting near the tunnel in the last few days. One salesperson who spoke with The Times about economic losses was pulled away by two women and later threatened by her supervisor, who told her she would be questioned by police.
While reporting near a Zhengzhou street, where several parts of the road had caved in on Friday, a Times reporter and a German colleague were surrounded by an angry crowd. They accused the reporters of "smearing China" and "spreading rumors." They demanded the journalists portray "a good view of China," but refused to be interviewed themselves.
One man pulled out a cellphone with a screenshot and shouted, "It's him!" They had mistaken the German colleague for a BBC correspondent, who'd also reported from Zhengzhou and raised questions about the city's subway and drainage system. For that, he was attacked on Chinese social media as a "rumormonger," with calls to hunt him down. At least one of the manhunt calls came from the Henan Communist Youth League's official account.
On Weibo, China's version of Twitter, two people who claimed to be survivors of the Jingguang North Road Tunnel have also been attacked online after writing about their experience and asking why the tunnel entrance was not blocked when officials knew heavy rains were coming. The Times was not able to reach them for comment.
But others, especially flood victims in the worst-affected areas, spoke openly with The Times about their distress at the destruction.
In Mihe, a town west of Zhengzhou perched at the intersection of two rivers, dozens of cars tangled with trees and electric wires were strewn in every direction. A red truck lay capsized under a bridge, the river snaking past it still heavy with mud. Its rushing roar mingled with the sound of bulldozers scooping up debris.
"So many of us in Mihe have lost everything," said a woman sitting on a log sticking out of a flooded supermarket. Her family sold lamps and lighting fixtures next door. Their ground-floor storefront had been destroyed, she said. Their warehouse supply had also been flooded and their delivery truck washed away.
"We are empty-handed," said the woman, who asked to not be named because she feared being called a "rumormonger." Many people were unable to reach loved ones who were swept away in the flood, she said, and were still searching for them.
Qiao Shi, 58, stood next to the battered skeleton of a pink car on Xinxing Road, a commercial street lined with now-hollow storefronts. Everyone in Mihe had gone out to work as normal that day, he said, despite the heavy rains. They had received no warning of potential flooding.