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Flooding Death Toll in China Rises Sharply

The number of people who died in recent floods in central China has increased dramatically to 302, officials said on Monday, more than tripling the previously reported total and raising questions about the full scale of the disaster.

It was not immediately clear why the number of people killed in the central province of Henan had climbed so sharply. The new figure was issued by Wu Guoding, the provincial vice-governor, at a news conference on Monday that began with Wang Kai, the Henan governor, and other officials bowing in tribute to those killed in the floods.

Mr. Wu said that the toll included the number who had died between July 16 and Monday. During a news conference on Thursday, Henan officials said 99 people had died in floods since July 16. There have been no reports of significant flooding since Thursday, suggesting a delay in the reporting of earlier deaths. At least 50 people are still missing, officials said.

In the central areas of Zhengzhou, the Henan provincial capital, 108 people died, including 14 in a subway tunnel that flooded rapidly, leaving people trapped on a train as water rose to the ceiling, and six in a highway tunnel that was inundated.

Many of those killed were in smaller cities administered by Zhengzhou including 64 people in Gongyi, 58 in Xingyang, 46 in Xinmi and 12 in Dengfeng, the official Henan Daily reported on Monday.

The total included 189 were killed in floodwaters and mudslides, 54 died in collapsed structures and another 39 drowned in basements, underground garages and tunnels, the newspaper said.

The authorities described the intense cloudburst over the area last month as in theory an at-least one-in-1,000 years event.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, said Monday that it was establishing a team to investigate the flooding, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. The team will propose ways to improve flood management and hold accountable anyone who did not do their jobs, it said.

The authorities in China have sometimes been slow to issue complete death tolls in disasters. In July 2012, after parts of Beijing were inundated with heavy rains, the government announced a death toll of 37, even though many in the city believed the number was higher.

Days after some Beijing residents began compiling a list of those killed and a state television reporter confronted officials at a news conference, the government confirmed that 77 people had died.

Flooding is a complex phenomenon with many causes, including land development and ground conditions. While linking climate change to a single flood event requires extensive scientific analysis, climate change, which is already causing heavier rainfall in many storms, is an increasingly important part of the mix. Warmer atmosphere holds, and releases, more water, whether in the form of rain or heavy winter snowpack.

Claire Fu and Li You contributed research from Beijing.


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