China raises death toll from floods | News | DW | 26.07.2012
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China raises death toll from floods

China has almost doubled the official death toll from last weekend's floods in the capital, Beijing. Many Chinese have criticized the government's response to the disaster.

China on Thursday raised the death toll from Saturday's heavy storm and flooding in Beijing to 77 from 37.

The move came after a public outcry over the way city officials were handling the casualty figures.

Many people posted comments on China's weibos - microblogging websites - condemning the official response to the storm and alleged public misinformation.

Some complained of a lack of warning and that Beijing's drainage system was in need of modernization. There were also accounts of rescue workers being slow to reach drivers and passengers caught in vehicles by the waters.

Chinese authorities threatened to arrest people making critical comments on the microblogs.

"From today onward, we will severely strike at those using the Internet to ... create and transmit political rumors and attack the party, state leaders and the current system," said city police chief Fu Zhenghua in comments carried by the Beijing Times newspaper.

The threat did not appear to stifle public criticism in the microblogs, however.

Official reaction to criticism

Beijingspokeswoman Wang Hui insisted earlier this week that authorities would not cover up the true number of deaths. But she did admit that the lack of official updates had aroused public suspicions in this regard.

She said authorities were aware of the importance of disclosing casualty figures, particularly since China in 2003 faced international censure for not revealing the full extent of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003.

Ex-Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong

Guo resigned on Wednesday

In another possible sign that Chinese officialdom is not impervious to public concern, Beijing's mayor Guo Jinlong resigned this week after many calls for him to step down.

Authorities however denied that the move was related to the floods, saying Guo was being promoted to Beijing's Communist party secretary.

State-run news agency Xinhua said Saturday's downpour, believed to be the heaviest rain since the start of records in 1951, caused 10 billion yuan (1.28 billion euros, $1.57 billion) in damage and affected more than 1.9 million people.

tj/mz (AFP, AP)