4 officials suspended over deadly China flooding

Heavy rain in China has killed at least 87 people and forced thousands from their homes, with nearly 80 others missing.
Floods covering roads and fields in Xingtai, Hebei province, on July 21, 2016.
Floods covering roads and fields in Xingtai, Hebei province, on July 21, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - 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 on Sunday (July 24).

Torrential rains lashed northern China this week, driving over 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 on 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 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 on Saturday.

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.

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

Beijing and surrounding areas were expected to receive more heavy rains on Sunday night, Xinhua said.

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