The city government has not issued new death toll figures since Sunday, the day after Beijing’s biggest downpour in 61 years overwhelmed drainage systems, swamped downtown underpasses and sent flash floods roiling through the city’s outskirts.
Beijing says 37 people were killed, but state media reports today said the toll could be as high as 61 and online rumours put it in the hundreds.
Officials have kept a tight lid on information, mindful that any failure to cope with the flooding could undermine the country’s leadership as it undergoes a once-a-decade transition, with Beijing city leaders a part of that reshuffling. China’s communist government has justified its one-party rule in part by delivering economic growth and maintaining stability in the face of bubbling unrest and periodic mass disasters like Saturday’s flooding.
In Beijing’s worst-affected Fangshan district, residents were compiling their own death toll online using both public and private chat rooms on the popular Baidu website. The toll was not being posted publicly, but some online accounts said the number was more than 300. There was no way to independently confirm the tally.
A woman with the information office of the Fangshan district government said fatality numbers were still being compiled and would be released as soon as the work was done. “I don’t know where those numbers came from,” said the woman when asked to comment on reports of more than 300 dead.
A separate Google document also was circulating on Twitter with a list of 19 confirmed dead or missing including their names and genders.
Li Chengpeng, a writer based in the southwestern province of Sichuan, said he was collecting names of the dead from flooding in Beijing and elsewhere. The official Xinhua News Agency reported at least 95 were killed after weekend storms hit 17 provinces and cities.
“We need to commemorate the people who have died in tragic events,” Li said. “But there are so many of them now, and they go uninvestigated, unaccounted for. Nothing happens after these incidents, and the people die and no figures are given to the public? No acknowledgment? No explanation?”
“We know we cannot expect the government to do this work, so we have to do it. Civil society needs to do it,” Li said. “Now people are using the internet … to do the job the government does not want to do.”
Meanwhile, warnings of rain and possible mudslides yesterday sent many in Beijing home from work early, snarling traffic.
More rain is expected for much of north China today, the Beijing Meteorological Bureau said.
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