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China floods: Public anger erupts over government handling of disaster

Public scepticism towards officials is common following disasters in China. In photo: Aerial view of the flooded villages in Yixing County on July 4, 2016 in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province of China. Photograph: (AFP)

Beijing, China Jul 23, 2016, 08.13 AM (IST)
Anger erupted today over floods in northern China that left more than 100 people dead or missing, with media and internet users accusing officials of negligence.

Torrential rain has lashed northern China this week, and a flashflood near the city of Xingtai in Hebei province, which left nine dead and 11 missing, has become a focus of the public's dissatisfaction with the government's response to the disaster.

Angry villagers have blamed local officials for failing to warn them of the impending deluge, with Hebei Satellite TV showing one resident saying water had reached chest-level before an alarm was raised.

Photos of the aftermath showed telephone poles toppled and homes completely collapsed, and debris submerged in a tide of brown mud.

Local deputy Communist party secretary Wang Qingfei drew ire for earlier comments that there had been "no casualties" in the flood, the Beijing News said.

A video of him kneeling before wailing relatives who lost family members was spread on social media, showing three distraught women clutching at his arm while asking how many had died.

Other online footage showed locals clashing with phalanxes of police, with one video showing police lining up to form a road blockade that the person filming claimed was intended to stop residents from travelling to Beijing to report the incident.

230,000 people relocated, more than 29,000 homes collapsed

Public scepticism towards officials is common following disasters in China, as authorities seek to control information and their lack of openness can raise doubts about their trustworthiness.

It remained unclear whether the flood, which struck early Wednesday while villagers slept, was the result of the levee of a nearby river breaking, a release of water from a local reservoir, or a combination of the two, the Beijing News said.

"Not to notify villagers about the Xingtai flood wasn't just an abandonment of the officials’ duty -- it was essentially manslaughter," wrote one incensed user of China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog on Saturday.

Between Monday and Friday evening, rainstorms left 36 people dead and 77 missing across Hebei, with 230,000 people relocated and more than 29,000 homes collapsed, the province's civil affairs department said on an official social media account.

Flooding is not uncommon during the summer monsoon season in northern China, but rains have been unusually heavy across the country this summer.

Heavy downpours have already wreaked havoc in central and southern China, flooding several major cities and causing over 200 deaths, state media has said.

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