Public demand answers for fatal delays in flood warning

By Liu Xin in Xingtai and Yang Sheng in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/25 1:38:01

Local officials have been suspended

A man sorts out a chicken farm hit by floods in Xingtai, Hebei Province on Saturday. The heaviest flooding in 20 years has left 240 people dead or missing and 16.3 billion yuan ($2.44 billion) in economic losses province-wide. Photo: IC

Villagers in Xingtai, North China's Hebei Province on Sunday have been scathing about the local government's failure to warn of a deadly flood that swept through the area, killing 130 and causing extensive loss of property.

The flood on Wednesday morning was the worst in two decades, affecting 9 million people, with 100 still missing, local authorities said Sunday. Four officials have been suspended.

Chinese media have also been digging into the flood-readiness of the local authorities, pointing out that billions of yuan was invested into local river projects to improve flood-discharge capability, but nothing seemed to have improved.

"With more than 700 families and 2,000 people [in the village], no matter how much we used to have, we just lost everything in one night," Zhang Zhange, Party secretary of Daxian village in Xingtai, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Daxian was one of the worst-hit villages in the Xingtai area when torrential rain caused the Qili River to burst its banks late Tuesday. The subsequent flood left nine people dead.

Zhang said he received a phone call at about 1:50 am Wednesday from the Dongwang township government warning that "the flood from Qili River is coming!" He ran to his office immediately and started broadcasting to warn villagers to evacuate their homes.

"Unfortunately, it was too late," Zhang said. "I shouted, 'Run, the flood is coming,' on the loudspeakers, but just after I repeated it a few times, the water rose above my waist."

He and two other colleagues were holding each other's hands and walking along a wall until they found high ground, Zhang said.

A villager surnamed Cui said he and his wife managed to escape after their landlord woke them up. 

"The water went over the storage racks of our store in only five minutes," Cui said. He lost 300,000 yuan ($44,937) in damaged oil and grain.

The villagers said nobody came to warn the residents door by door before the flood, and by the time the warning came over the loudspeakers, it was already too late.

Bottleneck at river

Villagers blamed the rapid rise of the water in Daxian on a heating pipe construction system that had narrowed the already narrow river course.

"The new pipeline could be a good thing to improve people's living standards; but the hidden danger of flood disaster brought by the pipeline program is a big threat to the village," Zhang said. No officials have yet been to the village to offer any explanation.

According to media reports, the upper reaches of the Qili River can discharge a dozen times more water volume than the bottleneck in Daxian village can handle.

China Business Journal reported the local government had spent 1 billion yuan to improve the Qili River's flood-discharge capacity in the past 10 years, and planned to add billions more. This did nothing to address the bottleneck in Daxian, and local people have been left wondering where the money went.

Inadequate response

Duan Xiaoyong, Party chief of the Xingtai economic development district, and three other officials were suspended for "responding inadequately" to the flood. The Party committee of Hebei Province announced that these officials will be investigated for legal responsibility. 

Xingtai Mayor Dong Xiaoyu apologized for the inadequate response to the disaster at a press conference on Saturday night.

He said that the city's authorities at all levels had underestimated the intensity of the rainfall, and the emergency response was insufficient as there had been no major floods for years.

He also admitted that the city had not accurately assessed and reported the impact of the disaster in a timely manner.

Wang Qingfei, an official from Xingtai's economic and technology development district, told a local TV station on Wednesday that there were no flood fatalities. The Xingtai government did not admit until Friday that at least nine were dead and 11 missing, after stories and photos went viral, accusing the authorities of failing to warn the villagers in time and causing huge casualties. 

Relief and reconstruction

Dongxiaowang village in Dongwang town, west of Daxian, has set up an emergency shelter for flood victims in the local auditorium. Village leader Hua Fengjiang said that since Wednesday, more than 600 from Daxian have sought sanctuary.

A temporary medical center at Daxian was offering free medical treatment, villagers told the Global Times. They said that Wu Chunfu, head of the Xingtai Mining Bureau Hospital, and three other doctors came to offer them aid. 

Wu told the Global Times that he brought experts and medical supplies worth 30,000 yuan after getting an order from Xingtai government on Sunday morning.

There will be no let up for parts of China, as in the next three days, torrential rain will move to the east, affecting North and Northeast China and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Some of the storms are expected to be heavy, the China National Meteorological Center.

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