China suspends 4 officials as anger rises over floods

A flash flood near the town of Xingtai in Hebei province provoked particular outrage after locals accused officials of trying to cover up the cause of the disaster.
A flash flood near the town of Xingtai in Hebei province provoked particular outrage after locals accused officials of trying to cover up the cause of the disaster.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • Four Chinese officials have been suspended following devastating floods that left more than 200 dead and missing and provoked widespread outrage over an alleged cover-up by the authorities, state media reported yesterday.

Torrential rains lashed the north last week, driving more than 300,000 people from their homes and leaving hundreds of thousands more trapped as waters rose. But a flash flood near the town of Xingtai in Hebei province provoked particular outrage after locals accused officials of failing to warn them of the impending deluge - and trying to cover up the cause of the disaster.

The alleged mistake left at least 25 dead and 13 missing, and public anger over the situation mounted after pictures of the corpses of drowned children being pulled from the muddy floodwaters circulated online.

In the aftermath, residents voiced suspicions that the sudden flood, which struck early Wednesday while villagers slept, was man-made - the result of a release of water from a local reservoir, rather than the breaking of a levee in a nearby river, as officials claimed.

Hebei's Communist Party committee has now announced that it has suspended two Xingtai town officials, as well as a chief engineer from the provincial capital and a deputy county head, for "dereliction of duty" the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The four officials will be "subjected to accountability investigations and could face further punishment", it said. Xingtai's mayor also apologised for the town's response to the disaster.

Earlier in the week, local deputy Communist Party secretary Wang Qingfei had drawn ire for suggesting there had been "no casualties" in the flood, the Beijing News said Saturday. Beijing and surrounding areas were expected to receive more heavy rains last night, Xinhua said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'China suspends 4 officials as anger rises over floods'. Print Edition | Subscribe