HONG KONG—As floodwaters surged into a stalled subway train beneath the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, Pure Li hurriedly tapped out farewell messages to a close friend on her smartphone. “I may not be able to get out,” she wrote.

The 26-year-old engineer was one of more than 500 passengers trapped during the evening rush hour Tuesday, as torrential rains pummeled the central province of Henan. A dozen people wouldn’t make it out alive, authorities say, and at least two were still missing as of Saturday morning.

Desperate images from commuters surrounded by roiling water went viral on Chinese social media this week, striking a nerve in a country that has vastly expanded its subway systems, and suffered a series of serious underground flooding incidents that have raised safety alarms.

On Thursday, China’s Ministry of Transportation ordered subway systems nationwide to re-examine and improve contingency plans for extreme weather. Authorities in Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital city, and Zhengzhou Metro Group, the state-owned subway company, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As rain fell in Zhengzhou on Tuesday, turning roads into swiftly flowing rivers and wreaking hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, according to state media, water began to pool in a train yard, the metro company said in a statement. It then broke through a wall and flowed into a tunnel.

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