Rising tide of criticism after deadly China floods

Fangshan residents sit amidst debris and damaged vehicles
Image caption Residents are dealing with the aftermath of the worst rain to hit Beijing in 60 years

Trucks marooned like boats on a main highway and cars submerged under water - these were scenes that Beijing residents were not used to seeing.

The rainstorm that hit Beijing over the weekend was the worst in 60 years. Officials said on Sunday that at least 37 people were killed, mainly in the hilly areas on the outskirts of the city. More than 65,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

State media were quick to trumpet the rescue efforts of the security services. Among those killed was a policeman who was electrocuted by a power cable lying in the water. He is now being hailed as a hero.

State media also ran reports of a top official meeting residents in one of the capital's worst-affected areas.

But with the water now receding, the authorities are having to contend with a rising tide of criticism.

"We don't need hero stories and touching stories anymore," wrote one user on weibo - China's equivalent of Twitter. "What we want is answers and solutions."

'Danger' maps

Much of the criticism has focused on Beijing's infrastructure and that the drainage system could not cope with the water. Others said warnings had been inadequate.

According to reports, some internet users are sharing self-made maps marking the capital's flood-prone areas. One map shows 40 areas marked as dangerous.

Many internet users have also expressed concern that the actual death toll could be higher than the official 37.

"So the statistics says 170,000 livestock dead," wrote one weibo user. "I don't understand if they can count the number of dead animals, why can't they count the number of dead people?"

Beijing city spokeswoman Wang Hui at a briefing on Tuesday said that the government "will make an announcement as soon as possible" on the death toll, acknowledging the public concern.

It was announced on Wednesday that Beijing's mayor and vice-mayor had resigned, in what is likely to be a routine shuffle.

But presumably to stop a torrent of criticism both their names were blocked on weibo.

Weibo criticism

Image caption Some critics said that the drainage system could not cope with the water

Much of the criticism of the Beijing rainstorms had echoes of the high-speed train crash in Wenzhou last year. At least 40 people were killed in the accident.

The one-year anniversary of the crash coincided with the flooding in Beijing.

Ever since weibo launched three years ago it has proved an enormous hit. More than 300 million users post 100m messages a day.

The site has made China a far nosier and more critical place, with many posts challenging the official versions of events.

It is not clear what the long-term impact of weibo and similar sites will be in the country, but many argue that trust in the authorities is being eroded.

Last month, the Global Times newspaper, known for its nationalist tendencies, ran an opinion piece about a "credibility crisis."

"Despite the efforts that governments at different levels have made to improve their credibility, in specific cases, the public has perceived the opposite," it said.

Earlier this year, the authorities moved to tighten up the controls on weibo. Users now need to register using their real names.

But some argue weibo tightens the government's control over the country as local officials can no longer bury bad news.

On Wednesday, the authorities issued another severe weather warning for Beijing. They may well be bracing themselves for another torrent of criticism.

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