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China flood victims criticise government’s response

Flooding and storms in Northern China resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being displaced. Photo: AP

Flooding and storms in Northern China resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being displaced. Photo: AP Photo: AP

After the city of Zhuozhou was devastated by the worst floods to hit northern China in living memory, residents are asking why the local government did not do more to help them.

Thousands of homes and livelihoods were damaged when Zhuozhou, less than 80 kilometres south of Beijing, bore the brunt of the floods that swept through Hebei province and other northern areas in the wake of Typhoon Doksuri.

Direct economic losses from the floods in the Baoding area, which includes Zhuozhou, amount to 17 billion yuan ($3.61 billion), according to local government estimates.

“In other places you see leaders rushing to the front line and co-ordinating rescue efforts, but in Zhuozhou they disappeared,” said a resident surnamed Wang, who was stranded in his apartment for three days without electricity.

“Rescue groups arrived from all over China but couldn’t find anyone to liaise with.”

Wu Chunlei, 42, whose two-storey house and factory were ruined, said villagers guided rescue groups to flood-stricken rural areas because government workers were not present.

“At the time there was no phone signal and we couldn’t contact any local officials,” Wu said.

“We could only save ourselves.”

Reuters tried to contact the local governments of Zhuozhou and the larger Baoding area, but repeated calls were not answered.

In a statement on Sunday, Zhuozhou’s local government said it had “quickly launched a rescue plan” and that the city’s Communist Party leader was “firmly on the front line of flood fighting and disaster relief”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a written order for “all-out” rescue efforts on August 1, and this week dispatched Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing to visit flooded areas in northern China, including Zhuozhou, state media reported.

State media has signalled that Mr Xi and other top Communist Party members are on their annual summer retreat.

In a sign the authorities were becoming sensitive to criticism by flood victims, several blog posts about the Zhuozhou floods, including first-person accounts, have been censored from the messaging platform WeChat.

More than a sixth of the city’s 600,000 inhabitants were evacuated.

Some of those who stayed behind said a lack of urgency from local officials led them to ignore evacuation notices until it was too late.

Other residents said they didn’t receive any warning.

Many residents believe the floods were worsened by a government decision on July 31 to divert flood waters from Baoding’s overflowing reservoirs to so-called flood storage areas, two of which were in Zhuozhou.

These areas might include low-lying populated land, according to China’s flood control laws.

Residents of flood storage areas are entitled to compensation worth 70 per cent of housing damage, the law says.

Several Zhuozhou residents said they had submitted damage reports to local officials but have yet to hear back about compensation.

China’s cabinet has vowed to return flood victims to their homes by winter, while Beijing officials announced that post-disaster recovery could take up to a year.

Zhuozhou is not the only area where residents are angry at perceived government inaction.

In the city of Bazhou, 130 kilometres south-east of Zhuozhou, dozens of flood victims staged a rare protest during which they unfurled banners demanding compensation, according to video clips posted last week on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Reuters managed to geolocate the videos but could not verify the date they were shot.

-Reuters

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