HONG KONG — Heavy rains this week in northern China caused extensive flooding, overwhelming levees and killing at least 72 people in one province, with many others missing, state media reported.
The death toll in Xingtai, an industrial city in Hebei Province, rose dramatically 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 now confirmed dead, another 13 are 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, with 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 from 9 to 25 in the space of several hours after first being reported on Friday evening, more than two days after the bulk of the rain and flooding.
The reports are from only two locations in Hebei, a densely populated province on the North China Plain that abuts Beijing. On Saturday the website of the local Ministry of Civil Affairs listed 72 deaths, 78 people missing and more than 298,000 people displaced across the province. Hebei has a population of more than 73 million.
Large portions of China have been inundated with heavy rain this summer. Earlier this month, more than 160 people died in southern China after heavy rains and flooding, with many people blaming the local government for failing to invest in proper drainage systems and for the extensive filling in of lakes that in the past could absorb much of the water.
Chinese-language posts on Twitter, which is blocked in China, showed pictures and videos purporting to show the devastation in the village of Daxian, which was inundated after a nearby levee burst. One video showed water cascading over homes, turning streets into rivers and apparently sweeping several people away. Other images showed corpses in farm fields. The images could not be verified as genuine.
In a news conference Saturday, officials in Xingtai denied reports that the flooding was caused by an unannounced discharge from a local dam, saying that the flood was the worst in the area’s history and that people were 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.
Calls to the Xingtai government on Saturday went unanswered and it did not immediately respond to an email sent asking for information about the flooding. A call to a spokesman for the Hebei provincial government also went unanswered.
It is not clear why the local governments did not report news of the flooding and deaths sooner, but it is not unusual for Chinese officials to want to downplay bad news. In 2012, heavy floods in Beijing killed dozens of people, but officials were slow to disclose details. Effective flood control has been a marker of well-run governments in China for thousands of years.