China’s State Council will launch a probe after the death toll from the flooding in Henan province surged from 99 to 302, according to official media reports.
The Cabinet decided to carry out a “comprehensive and objective assessment” of Henan’s disaster response, which will be led by the Ministry of Emergency Management, in a bid to improve disaster prevention and relief, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The probe will also “hold anyone responsible for dereliction of duty,” according to the report.
The majority of deaths occurred in the provincial capital Zhengzhou, where 292 people were killed after torrential waters led to landslides, buildings collapsing and the flooding of underground spaces, the official Henan Daily reported. Fifty people are missing across the province, including 47 in Zhengzhou. According to the official tally, 14 people drowned in submerged subway cars, while another six were killed in a swamped tunnel.
The deaths prompted local residents to question if the city government had failed to warn the public, shut down transportation in advance and provide timely rescue efforts.
Zhengzhou, a city of 10 million, received a year’s worth of rain in just three days last month starting July 20. Across Henan — a hub for agricultural and food production, coal and metals as well as heavy industry — more than 14.53 million people were affected, and direct economic losses reached 114.3 billion yuan ($17.7 billion), according to the provincial government.
The flood-battered city now faces renewed challenges of an outbreak of COVID-19. It reported a total of 63 infections by Monday evening, including 50 who were tested positive but have no symptoms, according to a briefing by the Zhengzhou government. It has also been conducting city-wide nucleic acid tests since Sunday, after a cluster of delta variant infections were found at a local hospital. The director of the city’s health commission was sacked for negligence over the weekend.
The floods and its aftermath also added to the tensions between China and the West after the provincial branch of the Communist Youth League, an official arm of the ruling party, used social media to urge members of the public to confront a BBC reporter over his coverage of the disaster. Later, a correspondent for German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle was confronted in Zhengzhou by a crowd of people.
The incidents prompted the U.S. to express concern over harassment and intimidation of foreign correspondents in China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the comments “distort facts, confuse right with wrong, and aim to pressure China with unfounded charges,” adding that rights of foreign journalists were “fully protected.”
Officials have warned that China can expect more extreme weather events against the backdrop of climate change. A typhoon struck Zhejiang province south of Shanghai last month, causing 3.35 billion yuan in damage.
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