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A storm of rumors as city recovers from floods

By Guo Kai Source:Global Times Published: 2012-7-25 0:55:04

The death toll from the most devastating rainstorm to hit Beijing in 61 years has not been updated since Sunday and rumors are rising that many more people may have died than has been reported.

On Monday, the Fangshan district official Sina microblog published a post refuting a rumor that more than 200 seniors at a nursing home had died in the rainstorm. The local government said it has checked "all 40 nursing homes in the district and found that no seniors from nursing homes had died in the storm."

"I think the Fangshan district should not only refute the rumor on its microblog, but a TV report should show the real situation at the nursing homes and include interviews with some seniors. That would reduce the public's doubt, and elevate government credibility," Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times.

Li Ping, the chief financial officer of Beijing Guoan Football Club, questioned the death toll, which has been set at 37, after he talked by phone with one of his classmates who lives in  Zhoukoudian in Beijing's Fangshan district.

"The classmate said cars and people were seen being washed down from hills in the rain. The hills are not that high at Zhoukoudian, but what about other places where the hills are higher, more people might have died there?" Li asked on his Sina Weibo.

Another unsubstantiated post said seven people were found dead in a village in Fangshan district and 30 other people died at a brick kiln. A woman living in Wuhan, Hubei Province forwarded the posting, but she told the Global Times on Sina Weibo that she could not verify the facts.

Some experts say the rumor mongering shows the government lacks credibility during emergencies.

"It follows a lack of respect for public opinion. In the past, some officials refuted public suspicion over some facts that later turned out to be true. This has served to weaken the government's credibility," Yu Guoming, a professor of the School of Journalism and Communication at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

Beijing's mayor, Guo Jinlong, who visited Fangshan district Monday, told an emergency meeting that the local government should carefully investigate and verify the losses and publish the information in a timely manner.

The public has also been critical of the local government's call for private donations after the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau said Monday that the government would allocate 100 million yuan ($15.66 million) for the rescue work.

A manager of a Shenzhen biological technology company wrote on his Weibo that "four years ago I donated all my money to help people during the Sichuan earthquake, but after I learned about Guo Meimei's Maserati I cannot donate now."

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