The official death toll from devastating weekend floods in Beijing more than doubled Thursday, with Chinese officials upping the numbers from 37 to 77 after an outcry over alleged underreporting of the fatalities.
The tragic tally could not be updated earlier because it was difficult to comb through the muddy debris, Beijing flood control spokesman Pan Anjun told the official Xinhua News Agency. Of the 77 victims, 66 have been identified, including five who lost their lives while rescuing others, Pan said. Among those victims already identified, the majority died of drowning.
The weekend downpour has left the Chinese government fending off accusations that it has minimized the death toll and faltered in providing adequate infrastructure to protect Beijing against flooding, the Times’ David Pierson reported this week. Suspicious of the government totals, some residents have begun tracking their own, higher numbers online.
“We know we cannot expect the government to do this work, so we have to do it. Civil society needs to do it,” Sichuan-based writer Li Chengpeng told the Associated Press. “Now people are using the Internet … to do the job the government does not want to do.”
Beijing authorities reportedly urged media to stick to heartening stories of courage during the disaster, while Chinese censors scrambled to remove criticism from microblogging websites.
“Many thanks to this once-in-5,000-years government for allowing us to experience so many worst-in-a-century things in such a short period of time,” one user sarcastically wrote in a post deleted Tuesday from Weibo, according to the China Media Project based in Hong Kong.
Despite the push to focus on the positive, outrage over how the government has handled the disaster and analysis of its failures has continued to surface in Chinese media. The Global Times reported that a woman whose husband died when his SUV was submerged under a bridge complained that the attempted rescue was “sloppy.” It took at least 10 minutes to reach emergency services and police and firefighters arrived without inflatable boats, she lamented.
"It only took 10 minutes to pull the car out. If they started the rescue earlier, my husband wouldn't have had to die," the widow told the newspaper, which has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: An elderly woman stands by her damaged home in Beijing on Thursday, days after rainstorms pounded China's capital city. Credit: AFP / Getty Images