Officials 'Ordered Town Drowned'

Outrage in southern China over deliberate flooding to ease the water level at a local dam.

2009-09-23
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Residents wade through a flooded street in Guangzhou, in southern Guangdong province following a flood last year, Sept. 24, 2008.
AFP

HONG KONG—Police are guarding local government offices in China's southern Guangdong province after dozens of villagers tried to storm the buildings in protest at deliberate flooding of their land in the wake of a major typhoon.

"More than 100 people stormed the government offices three times, but they wouldn't let them in," said a resident, surnamed Luo, of Chuanbu township near Guangdong's Luoding city.

"Right now there are more than 100 police standing guard there."

Luo said local township officials had refused all along to meet with villagers.

"The villagers are very angry," he said.

"The township Party secretary has even said that it doesn't matter if 100 or so villagers die. The most important thing is that not a single official died."

Order to flood

The township government was ordered by Guangdong provincial authorities to flood the countryside around Chuanbu last week after water levels at the township's Shandong Dam rose to dangerous levels in the wake of Typhoon Koppu, which left at least three dead.

A teacher surnamed Li at the Chuanbu Middle School said the school buildings were only a few hundred meters (yards) from the dam and described scenes of panic as teachers and students fled upstairs from the rising floodwaters.

"The water came in so quickly. Within two or three minutes the entire school was under water," Li said.

"There was nowhere to run to. Several thousand teachers and students tried to escape to the upper storeys of the school buildings."

Calls unanswered

"At the time, all we could think about was how to survive. There was no time to grab any belongings. We were running for our lives," Li said.

"When the water reached the second floor, we ran up to the third floor. Then the third floor went under, so we ran up to the fourth floor. There are only five storeys in the school. We wondered at the time what would happen if we ran out of storeys," she added.

An official who was similarly stranded at the Chuanbu township government confirmed that a total of 5,000 students at the middle school were left stranded by rising floodwaters, which also destroyed hundreds of houses.

"No one expected the water to rise so fast," the official said.

"It was as deep as two meters. They were stranded for a whole day and night."

"The government building was also surrounded by water. We too were very hungry and thirsty. We only had something to eat after the water retreated," he said, adding that no casualties were reported from among the students.

The mother of Chuanbu Middle School student Qu Mingjie said her son was on the third floor when the waters started to rise.

"They were told to remain in their classroom by their teacher. The water was two meters high."

Repeated calls to the Chuanbu police station and the Luoding municipal government went unanswered during office hours Wednesday.

Villagers were unable to confirm any deaths, but rumors were rife that dead bodies were carried to government offices in protest, and that a number of teachers and students from a local kindergarten were missing.

Guangdong-based civil rights activist Tang Jingling said local officials were refusing to give out details of loss of life and property caused by the flooding for fear of being held accountable.

Previous accident

"Under such circumstances, the local government must know very well what happened during the floods, but they are dragging their feet on giving out information on the economic losses and deaths and injuries, because they could lose their jobs," he said.

"This is obviously a sackable offense, and perfectly good grounds for punishment by resignation."

But he said that more than 100 people had died in a similar accident in Shalan township in the northwestern province of Heilongjiang.

"After that, some officials were disciplined, but there were only a handful, and all they had to do was apologize. This is obviously unreasonable when you consider the enormous loss of human life that was involved," Tang said.

Three people were killed and four others remained missing after Typhoon Koppu slammed into Guangdong province on Sept. 16, local authorities said last week.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu, and in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Additional translation by Jia Yuan. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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