Weekend floods in Beijing caused “significant losses” and casualty numbers are still being tallied, the head of the worst-hit district has said, as residents of China’s capital question the official toll.
Authorities in Beijing have still not updated a statement issued late Sunday that said 37 people had been killed in Saturday’s freak rain, the heaviest since records began more than 60 years ago, with another seven still missing.
But many residents of the city believe the true figure may be much higher, after rivers burst their banks and flooded major highways, submerging large numbers of vehicles.
In the worst-hit area of Fangshan, on the city’s mountainous southwestern outskirts, distraught residents spoke of cars being swept away and said many people were still missing.
“The casualties, which is what everyone cares about, have brought about significant losses, and we are currently coming closer to tallying them up,” Fangshan leader Qi Hong said in a briefing broadcast late Tuesday on state television.
Beijing city spokeswoman Wang Hui, addressing concerns expressed on China’s hugely popular microblogs, or weibos, insisted authorities would not cover up the true number of deaths.
The city government “will make an announcement as soon as possible”, Wang said at a briefing Tuesday, acknowledging that the lack of official updates had given rise to public suspicion.
Saturday’s storm is estimated to have caused losses of five billion yuan ($780 million) and destroyed 8,200 homes, Wang said.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said emergency workers had pulled 84 vehicles from waters submerging a major highway between Beijing and Hong Kong. Three bodies were found, it said.
Many microbloggers have said some of the death and destruction could have been avoided if the government had issued proper warnings and modernized ancient drainage systems.
Censors have deleted posts criticizing the official response to the disaster in China’s rapidly modernizing capital, which came at a time of heightened political sensitivity ahead of a 10-yearly handover of power.
City propaganda chief Lu Wei told media outlets to stick to stories of “achievements worthy of praise and tears,” the Beijing Times daily reported this week, as authorities tried to stem a tide of accusations that they had failed to do enough.