BEIJING (AFP) - Anger erupted on Saturday (July 23) over floods in northern China that left more than 200 people dead or missing, with media and Internet users accusing officials of negligence.
Torrential rain has lashed the north this week, and a flashflood near the town of Xingtai in Hebei province, which left at least 23 dead and 13 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.
Residents have also 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 have claimed.
Photos and videos of the aftermath showed the small, floating corpses of drowned children being pulled from the muddy floodwaters, as well as telephone poles toppled and homes completely collapsed.
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 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.
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.
"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 on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog on Saturday.
As of Saturday afternoon, rainstorms had left 105 dead and 104 missing in Hebei, 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.
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.