More than 130 dead in China flooding, many still missing – Los Angeles Times

More than 130 people died and scores remained missing after heavy rains touched off floods and landslides in China this week, officials said Saturday. Meanwhile, meteorologists warned that more thunderstorms were expected in the coming days.

In northern China, where most of the deaths were concentrated, the worst-hit area was Hebei province, which encircles the capital, Beijing. At least 72 people died there, the provincial branch of the Ministry of Civil Affairs told the official New China News Agency on Saturday. An additional 78 people were still missing in Hebei as of Saturday.

Authorities put the number of affected people at more than 8 million, with nearly 300,000 evacuated.

In the city of Xingtai, about 200 miles southwest of Beijing, 25 people were dead and 13 missing after the Qili River overflowed its banks in the early hours of Wednesday, flooding homes as people slept. 

Photos and videos circulating online appeared to show residents retrieving the bodies of dead children from the floodwaters, but it was impossible to verify the authenticity of the postings. The Beijing News reported that the dead and missing included five children ranging in age from 3 to 10, as well as an 86-year-old man.

Some residents questioned whether the disaster in Xingtai was man-made, resulting from the release of floodwaters from a nearby reservoir.  

But in a press conference Saturday morning, officials denied that was the case, saying the reservoir’s floodgate does not open into the river that flooded, but a different waterway.

The vice mayor of Xingtai said that last week’s downpours were the heaviest since August 1996, and that between 3 p.m. Tuesday and midnight, nearly 60% of the typical annual rainfall had fallen in the area.

Water brimmed over the reservoir and into the Qili River, and flowed into the western channel of the North-South water transferway, a massive engineering project designed to move water to China’s arid north from the more lush southern provinces.

Army troops have been dispatched to rescue people stranded in flooded areas and deliver emergency aid via helicopter. 

Other deaths were reported in central and southern China. A total of 19 people died in Guizhou province and the giant city of Chongqing between Tuesday and Friday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said. Between June 16 and Friday, 16 people died in Hubei province and another seven in Jiangxi, the ministry said. 

That water too ended up in the Qili, causing the deadly floods, officials said. The problem was exacerbated because the Qili narrows in one place near a major highway, they added.

The flooding has inundated farmlands, wiping out crops. In the metropolis of Shijiazhuang, near Xingtai, thousands of residents have been without running water since Thursday and service was not expected to be restored until next week.

Nicole Liu in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report. 

julie.makinen@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @JulieMakLAT.

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UPDATES:

3:25 a.m.: Updated with a higher death toll.

This article was first posted at 1:40 a.m.

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