Badiucao (巴丢草): Outrage Over Official Flood Handling

Badiucao (巴丢草): Outrage Over Official Flood Handling

Commenting on the massive flooding that has led to at least 164 deaths in northern China over the past week, CDT resident cartoonist Badiucao recreates the flag of China by showing villagers in hard hit Xingtai, Hebei, drowning in a torrent of red:

Heavy rains over the past week in northern China have led to floods and substantial casualties in Hebei Province. The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe and Kiki Zhao report:

The death toll in Xingtai, an industrial city in Hebei Province, rose sharply on Saturday, days after a wall of water descended on one village in the middle of the night with little or no warning, according to the Beijing News. In addition to the 25 people in Xingtai who were confirmed dead, 13 were missing, China National Radio reported on its official social media site.

Jingxing County, part of the provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, received more rain on Tuesday and Wednesday than in all of 2015, and flooding causing 26 deaths with 34 others missing, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In both cities, the local government took days to make public the devastation and report the casualties. In Xingtai, the death toll on Saturday rose to 25 from nine in the span of several hours after first being reported on Friday evening, more than two days after the bulk of the rain and flooding.

[…] In a news conference on Saturday, officials in Xingtai denied reports that the flooding had been caused by an unannounced discharge from a local dam, saying that the flood was the worst in the area’s history and that people had been given warning of the heavy flooding through social media and television alerts. Of the 17 people who died in the area around the village, at least five were younger than 9, according to a list of the dead released by the local government. [Source]

More than a hundred people in central and southern China died and nearly 1.5 million were displaced earlier this summer due to flooding. While poor urban planning and government corruption have been blamed for the severity of damage, Chinese censors deleted critical social media commentary as state media applauded the official response and relief efforts.

The South China Morning Post’s Shi Jiangtao reports that at least 114 people died and another 111 were missing as of Saturday evening across Hebei due to the more recent floods. Shi’s report also notes that official coverage of the damage and casualties came only after protests broke out last week by residents frustrated with what they saw as ineffective official rescue and warning efforts:

Authorities in Xingtai initially denied any casualties. The news of heavy death toll began to emerge only after thousands of local residents took to the street on Friday, protesting against the alleged belated disaster warnings and ineffective rescue efforts.

According to a video posted online and mainland media reports, disgruntled villagers blocked a main road for a few hours, accusing local government of failing to alert them before the flooding hit and attempting to cover up the casualties. Hundreds of policemen were sent to the scene to put down the protest.

[…] The protest video and photos showing destroyed homes and debris submerged in a tide of brown mud have sparked online fury, with many questioning local authorities’ apparent failure to send out warnings and carry out evacuation effectively to save more lives. [Source]

The Hong Kong Free Press has compiled a collection of video and photo documentation of the Hebei floods and protests. The SCMP’s Shi Jiangtao reports further on villagers’ outrage over a lack of warning by talking to affected Xingtai residents:

“The flash flood took my daughter [Zhang Yunuo], 10, and son [Zhang Haoyu], 6, away in a split second. It took me the whole day to find their bodies,” Zhang [Erqian] told the newspaper.

While some villagers believe the flood was caused by a deluge in an upstream reservoir, authorities have categorically denied the disaster was due to human error. But officials admitted their warnings, issued through TV, Wechat and microblogging services just a few minutes before the floods hit, may have been too late to avoid the heavy casualties in villages including Daxian where power and communications were also disrupted.

[…] When Zhang’s house was hit by a wall of water at about 1.50am, village chief Zhang Zhange had just received an emergency call from township authorities that the flood was approaching Daxian village.

[…] Villager Tian Zhien, who lived close to Zhang, said when he was woken up by the alarm, the flood had ­already reached his house. “I thought to alert my neighbours, but it was already impossible to get out. All I could do was rush my family to our roof,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying. […] [Source]

A more recent report from the SCMP’s Zhen Liu has the Hebei death toll at a minimum of 130, and notes that four officials have been suspended for mishandling the flood response:

The four suspended officials were Xingtai Economic Development Zone Communist Party chief Duan Xiaoyong, Dongwang town party chief Zhang Guowei, Shijiazhuang transport bureau chief engineer He Zhankui and Jingxing county deputy chief Jia Yanting.

Duan and Zhang were the direct supervisors of Daxian, while Jingxing was among the province’s worst-hit areas, with 36 dead and another 35 missing.

[…] Xingtai Mayor Dong Xiaoyu bowed at a local press conference on Saturday night as he apologised to the families of the dead or missing and other affected residents. State Councillor Wang Yong, who oversees disaster relief and work safety, arrived in Hebei in the morning to inspect flood controls. [Source]

CCTV English aired the Xingtai mayor’s apology. In years past, Chinese authorities have released censorship directives ordering media outlets to “positively report” on floods and to delete critical reports on collapsed infrastructure and mass petitioning in the aftermath of other natural disasters.

Commenting on Twitter, activist Wen Yunchao compared a photo from Hebei to the infamous documentation of a drowned three-year-old would-be Syrian refugee:

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