Two Jailed Amid Rising Public Anger Over South China Flood Response

hunan-floods-07052017.jpg Scenes from flooding in Ningxiang county in central China's Hunan province.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have jailed two people for "spreading rumors" on the popular messaging app WeChat amid growing public anger over the government's response to widespread flooding in the region.

Two managers of a WeChat group from Hunan's provincial capital Changsha were sentenced to seven days' administrative detention in the city's Gaoxin district after posts critical of the local government's handling of the flooding in Ningxiang county, police said in a statement.

Dozens of people have been killed and more than 20 remained missing this week, as heavy rains continued to batter southern China, flooding towns, cutting off power and halting traffic.

Trains have been halted and roads cut off to many towns and villages, but local residents in the worst-hit areas have clashed with police after protesting against the government's response.

Footage of protests in Hunan's Ningxiang county over the weekend showed hundreds of people gathered on a square, shouting angrily, surrounded by police vehicles.

Others carried banners and umbrellas, while nearby vehicles sounded their horns.

Local residents have hit out at the slow speed of flood relief work, with many areas still deprived of fresh drinking water and power even where floodwaters have receded.

"There are some places that still have no tap water," a resident of Ningxiang county told RFA. "We haven't had any here for four days."

"But we're not doing too badly, because we're under the aegis of the city government, whereas it's very serious in other places ... like Shahe Market and Baimaqiao," he said.

Protesters taken away

Local residents have staged protests in some parts of the disaster-hit region in recent days, prompting clashes with police and the detention of protesters, according to a business owner near Baimaqiao.

"Some people were taken away to the police station," the business owner said.

An officer who answered the phone at the Ningxiang county police department declined to comment on the incident.

"You'll have to ask a different department," the officer said. "We are the emergency response team."

The number he supplied simply transferred the call once more to the emergency response team, however.

The Baimaqiao business owner said there have been "huge losses" caused by the flooding.

"Our losses were purely the result of the flooding, and we have lost everything," he said. "The damage is probably worth about 100,000-200,000 yuan at the very least."

"Some places have damage costing more than a million yuan, which is to be expected," he said. "Nobody has said anything about compensation."

State highway blocked

A third local resident said many people are blaming the local government for failing to predict the flooding.

"I'm a fair-minded person, but even I think that it's going to be hard for the municipal government to escape responsibility," he said.

Meanwhile, five people were arrested after dozens of residents blocked a state highway in Hunan's Xiangtan city, calling for compensation for loss and damage cause by the floods, causing tailbacks of several kilometres, the city police department said via social media.

The protesters blocked State Highway 320 near Tongzi village, Xianghu city, demanding the government compensate them, police said.

More than 11 million people in 11 southern provinces have been affected by floods, landslides and hailstorms.

Water levels in major Hunan rivers and lakes have reached danger level, while some rivers have already broken their banks, flooding towns, villages and farmland for miles around, according to the ministry of civil affairs.

Dozens of flights at several airports serving major cities in the flood-hit region including Chengdu, Changsha, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen were canceled or delayed, stranding thousands of travelers on Tuesday, Associated Press reported.

More rain is forecast to hit the region this week.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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