200 pupils dead in flooding, parents claim

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2005, 12:00am

Hundreds of enraged parents whose children were killed in a flash flood in Heilongjiang province blocked the main roads of Ningan city yesterday, demanding a full investigation into the tragedy.

They challenged the government's claim that only 88 students have died so far in the violent flash flood that sent a wall of water and debris smashing into Shalan Township Central Elementary School on Friday. Four villagers were also killed. Seventeen students are still missing, according to Xinhua.

Officials said the rainfall preceding the flood - 150mm to 200mm fell in 40 minutes on Friday - happened only once every 200 years and was difficult to prepare for.

But the villagers set the death toll at about 200, and held authorities responsible for the disaster. They said officials had failed to respond to their early appeals for help. 'Give us the truth [of what actually happened in the accident]. Punish those officials responsible for the disaster,' shouted emotional parents and relatives. They staged sit-ins over the weekend, blocking major roads leading to Ningan.

'It is appalling how they have tried to cover up so far,' said one villager, whose nine-year-old son was lost in the flood.

'When I came here [on Saturday morning] with more than 100 fellow villagers, 96 refrigerators at the city's funeral home each contained the bodies of two youngsters. And more bodies have arrived at the funeral house today,' he said. 'Why didn't the rescuers arrive earlier?'

He questioned the efficiency of the rescue operation, which involved several thousand people. 'By the time they arrived in boats with rescue equipment, we had already found our children's bodies - suffocated by mud and water - after struggling to reach the school, which was under nearly two metres of water,' he said.

Xinhua said last night that the county party secretary and police chief were under investigation because of the accusations. Police have sealed off the township and several major roads near the towns to ensure the safety of State Councillor Chen Zhili, who was visiting the township yesterday, accompanied by other senior provincial and city officials. Xinhua said Ms Chen had conveyed condolences to the villagers from President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.