BEIJING – Provincial authorities in northern China said Sunday that they have suspended four local officials for inadequately responding to floods over the past week that killed 114 people and left 111 others missing.
The Hebei provincial government said on its official microblog account that it was suspending the head of a development zone in the city of Xingtai, the chief engineer of a city transport bureau and two other bureaucrats.
The move comes as China's government has been fighting massive flooding this summer that has also threatened embankments along rivers in central China, with authorities mobilizing troops and heavy equipment to fill the gaps. Already, 576 people have been recorded as dead or missing nationwide in the first half of the year.
President Xi Jinping last week warned the country to be prepared for more hardship to come and said officials found negligent in their duties would be severely punished.
In Hebei, the officials were being suspended "for being ineffective in flood prevention and rescue and relief work," the provincial government statement said.
Xingtai was among the province's worst-hit areas, with floods there killing 25 people and leaving 13 others missing.
Villagers complained that a Xingtai official tried to cover up the casualties in an interview last week by saying no one died or was hurt. Residents also complained that officials had failed to give them sufficient warning before the flood hit.
"The village chief informed us about the flood situation around 2 a.m. that day, but the floodwaters had almost arrived by that time," said a villager who would only give his surname, Zhang, when reached by phone on Sunday. "We had no time to make preparations."
"We want the government to tell us the truth, including the death toll in our village," Zhang said. Reports say eight people died in his village of Daxian.
The city's mayor, Dong Xiaoyu, made a public apology and bowed at a news conference Saturday, saying the government had underestimated the intensity of the rain and the risk of flooding.