Foreign Journalists Surrounded by Angry People After Talking to Henan Flood Victims

Local residents have complained of a lack of help with the cleanup operation, while others say Zhengzhou's drainage system couldn't cope with the volume of water.
By Cheng Yut Yiu and Qiao Long
2021-07-26
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Foreign Journalists Surrounded by Angry People After Talking to Henan Flood Victims People wade across a flooded street in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan province, July 23, 2021.
AFP

Foreign journalists covering disastrous flooding following record rainfall in the central Chinese province of Henan have been intercepted by unidentified people who recorded them and angrily protested that they were 'smearing' China, they reported via social media on Monday.

Alice Su of the Los Angeles Times and Mathias Boelinger of Deutsche Welle were confronted by a group of people, including two women who claimed to be from media organizations, all of which are under the aegis of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"We were surrounded by an angry crowd shouting things like 'This is China, get out of China!,'" Su said via her Twitter account after reporting alongside Boelinger.

"Prior to this we had been chatting w people on a street where several huge holes [had] opened in the road," Su wrote. "Shopkeepers were distressed about insufficient govt help to drain water from their underground stores, w all their goods still submerged after four days,"

Some of those seen gathering at the scene of the altercation had the appearance of plainclothes state security police, and were described as possibly being "plainclothes" by Boelinger.

"I think it was about ten men, mostly middle aged ...They kept pushing me yelling that I was a bad guy and that I should stop smearing China. One guy tied to snatch my phone," Boelinger tweeted.

AP correspondent Dake Kang commented on Su's thread: "Exactly the same thing happened to me yesterday at almost precisely the same location... I got reported to the police."

Boelinger said one of the women had filmed him, while the other later explained that the crowd believed him to be BBC journalist Robin Brant.

"What I did not know at the time was that a manhunt was on after @robindbrant," Boelinger tweeted.

"There is a vicious campaign against the @BBCNews in nationalistic circles and state media," he said. "Eventually when convinced that I was not @robindbrant the crowd calmed down. Some even apologized."

Boelinger said Al Jazeera's Katrina Yu had also been targeted by hostile "bystanders."

"Sad sign of increasing anger and suspicion towards foreign media in #China," Yu tweeted. "When we filmed in front of the #Zhengzhou subway crowds were recording us and calling the authorities."

She included a screenshot of a post to social media platform Weibo warning people not to be "used" and not to talk to foreign media.

Su wrote: "There were many other ppl in Zhengzhou and the surrounding worse-hit areas who were open and even eager to talk about the destruction and difficulties they’re facing. But this crowd seemed really angry and eager just to tell the foreigners off ... It was not a pleasant experience."

Subways flooded, cars swept away

At least 12 died in subway carriages and stations last week as the No. 5 Metro Line in Zhengzhou was deluged by turbulent, muddy water after unprecedented rainfall drowned tunnels and turned city streets into raging torrents.

Cars were swept away in the current and left piled up across the city, sparking some 180,000 vehicle insurance claims.

The floods came after local government claimed to have spent around 50 billion yuan upgrading the city's drainage systems.

But a local resident surnamed Zheng said the plan was to use porous materials in constructing city floors and sidewalks, to allow water to drain away.

But she said most were made of regular concrete and cement.

"The water doesn't get absorbed at all; it just flows down the streets or into a sewer," Zhyeng said. "Most of the sidewalks are made of cement and can't absorb water."

The rescue operation was racing against time on Monday, as more heavy rain was forecast to hit Xinyang, Zhumadian, Zhoukou, Shangqiu, Kaifeng, Puyang, Xinxiang, Hebi, and Anyang cities in the next few days.

Volunteers are still racing to deliver water and food as well as plug gaps in dikes, and more rain will put even greater pressure on basins used to divert and hold floodwaters, with 13 million people already affected by last week's rains.

The provincial government said 69 people have died and five are still missing, with nearly 9,000 homes collapsed and losses estimated at around U.S.$2 billion.

Drinking water, medicine, food, and other relief items are being delivered to some 20,000 people in inaccessible areas, while thousands of farmers have been hit by the worst flash flooding in centuries that has drowned 1,678 larger-scale farms, killing more than a million animals.

Members of a farming community in Xinxiang told Reuters they had lost some 200,000 chickens and up to 6,000 pigs in the floods, amid fears of a resurgence of swine fever spread by floodwater.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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