The number of people killed by heavy rainstorms in China’s capital last weekend may have exceeded the official toll of 37 as residents of one of Beijing’s hardest-hit areas believe many more have died and that the authorities are withholding information on the disaster.
According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, 37 people died and seven were left missing after the July 21 storms inundated Beijing with 16 inches of rain, causing 10 billion yuan (U.S. $1.6 billion) in damage.
Speaking in an interview, a resident of the hard-hit mountainous Fangshan district in western Beijing disputed the official death toll following the heaviest rains in 60 years, calling it “certainly inaccurate.”
“This disaster is unprecedented. Many people I personally know have died,” the woman surnamed Qin said.
“It is impossible now to collect accurate numbers,” she added.
A Beijing resident surnamed Sun also expressed doubt about the official toll.
“The death toll will rise for sure because so many people are missing. Many may have died,” he said.
Qin said that security in Fangshan has been tightened since the flood.
“The authorities have blocked all dissemination of information, and armed police are now guarding the flooded areas,” she said.
“Families are not allowed to take cell phones with them when identifying dead bodies,” Qin added, implying official restrictions on the taking of pictures of the dead.
“The number of confirmed deaths is 37,” a Fangshan district public information officer surnamed Lu told RFA.
“But this is not the final number, as rescue operations are still under way.”
Lu declined to give a number of those missing, saying only, “We are still helping the disaster-hit people to settle down.”
Asked about procedures for identifying victims of the floods, Lu said, “I really don’t know. But we have announced all the areas that suffered the heaviest precipitation.”
Also speaking in an interview, a Beijing resident surnamed Wang said she believes the government has not issued an accurate count of those killed because it failed to send out a warning of the storm before it hit.
“The government should be held accountable for this terrible inundation. Why didn’t they take preventive measures?”
“I haven’t wanted to watch the news on TV recently because it is full of false information,” added Fangshan villager Qin.
“They don’t dare to tell the truth.”
Reported from Hong Kong by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Ping Chen.