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China floods kill scores, leave thousands homeless

July 23, 2016

Heavy rain and floods across China in the last week have left at least 150 people dead, dozens missing and forced thousands to leave their homes. Around 50,000 homes have collapsed, according to state media.

A picture made available on 23 July 2016 of volunteers giving food supplies to a villager in a makeshift boat on flood water, Xinhua Village of Xinchang county in Wuhan city, Hubei Province of central China copyright: picture-alliance/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Torrential rain has swept through China over the last week, with a flash flood near the town of Xingtai in Hebei province killing at least 23 people and leaving 13 others unaccounted for. Surviving residents are becoming increasingly dissatisfied over the government's response to the disaster.

As of Saturday afternoon, rainstorms had left 105 dead and 104 missing in Hebei province, with nearly 310,000 people relocated and more than 52,000 homes collapsed, the province's civil affairs bureau said on an official social media account.

In the central province of Henan, 15 people were killed and eight were missing after thunderstorms and strong winds forced 72,000 people from their homes and damaged 18,000 houses.

Images of the dead and damage from the flooding posted on social media has led to an angry response, with members of the public demanding accountability from local authorities.

Rescue workers filling sand bags in Hebei province
Rescue workers have struggled to contain the floodwaters with sandbagsImage: Reuters/D. Shen

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

People have blamed local officials for failing to warn them of the impending deluge. One resident was shown on Hebei satellite television saying the alarm was only raised after water had reached chest level.

There have also been claims that a sudden flood on Wednesday was caused by the release of water from a reservoir, and not from the breaking of a levee in a nearby river, as officials had claimed.

Beijing News reported criticism of a local official, Wang Qingfei, who had claimed there had been "no casualties" in the flood.

Flood was 'underestimated'

A pig farmer with her drowned animals in Xiaogan, Hubei Province Copyright: Reuters/D. Shen
Many people have lost their livelihoods in the floodsImage: Reuters/D. Shen

On Saturday night, Xingtai Mayor Dong Xiaoyu made a public apology for the mishandling of the flash flood, admitting that the dangers from the flood had been underestimated. He promised a thorough investigation and said any officials found to be negligent would be held responsible.

About 8.6 million people have been affected by the flooding, according to state media and local government reports.

More than 1.5 million hectares of crops have also been damaged. Direct economic losses are estimated at more than 20 billion yuan (2.7 billion euros/$3 billion), the government has said. The Central Bank on Friday issued a statement saying it would provide financial support for the flooded areas.

jm/cmk (Reuters, AP)