The tragic loss of dozens of lives in the floods in Zhengzhou, capital city of Henan province, has taught the whole country a hard-learned lesson of the need to be better prepared to respond to extreme weather incidents.

Despite the persistent red alerts issued by local meteorological departments and warning of heavy precipitation, administrative authorities in the Central China city failed to take proper precautions.

Despite national and local regulations suggesting businesses and schools be closed and various non-essential activities be suspended, everything carried on as usual in Zhengzhou on July 20, until floodwaters caused by torrential rainfall inundated Line 5 of the city’s metro system as well as the Jingguang tunnel, stranding hundreds inside subway cars and vehicles inside the tunnels. As of Monday noon, more than 50 people had been confirmed to have drowned in the city.

While the severity of the rainfall on July 20 was indeed beyond anticipation for the otherwise dry central city, with some calling it as a “once in a millennium” tragedy, it was a tragic natural disaster made worse by a belated emergency response.

If the municipal authorities had followed the advice of meteorological regulations and enforced the proposed suspensions, people would not have been travelling on the roads. If the subway operator suspended services as soon as the flooding began, and the ground traffic authorities closed the tunnel before it was too late, the outcome might have been very different.

But everybody was waiting for orders so that they wouldn’t be blamed for making the decision. When the municipal emergency response command did initiate the highest level of disaster response, it was too late to make any difference.

Although those ifs and buts come after the fact, local authorities in other places seem to have learned a quick lesson from the Zhengzhou tragedy, initiating efficient and resolute emergency responses to the arrival of Typhoon In-Fa in the past few days.

Premier Li Keqiang on Monday ordered local governments not to hesitate in even overdoing their precautions in the face of similar emergencies. And on the same day, the National Development and Reform Commission also called for “resolute” measures to respond to severe weather events and maximum endeavours to protect public safety.

Hopefully, such clarity will suffice to make a difference in local governments’ approach to similar emergencies. We are just half way into this year’s flood season. And Henan may not be the only victim of nature’s wrath considering the global temperature rise has yet to be tamed.