Natural disasters in China have killed at least 1,074 people and left 270 missing since the beginning of this year, including this weeks heavy rains, an official said on Tuesday.
The most notable events included floods, heavy winds, hail and a range of geological disasters, said Yang Xiaodong, deputy head of the disaster relief department of the China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs.
In total, natural disasters caused 298 billion yuan (USD 44 billion) in direct economic losses. About 400,000 houses collapsed and 6.24 million residents were relocated, with the vast majority of disasters occurring since June.
Total damage in the first seven months of the year was much heavier than over the same period in recent years, Yang said.
Since June, 833 people were killed and 233 listed missing in natural disasters, the largest number of casualties over the same period since 2011.
Disasters since June have caused an estimated 253 billion yuan in direct economic losses. Anhui, Fujian, Guizhou, Hebei, Hubei, Jiangsu and Jiangxi were the hardest hit regions.
Local governments in Hebei underestimated the intensity of the rain, failed to provide sufficient emergency response, and were late and inaccurate in disaster assessment, Yang said in response to the devastating flash floods that left 130 people dead and 110 others missing in Hebei last week.
“Torrential rain cut off local communication, power and traffic, resulting in delayed warnings about the impending deluge, failure to evacuate people in danger and failure to report casualties in time,” said Yang, who has just returned from Hebei.
Five local officials had been suspended as of Monday for dereliction of duty during the deadly flood in Hebei as public outrage mounted, with many questioning why they were not informed of the floods and complaining that officials failed to organise an evacuation before the flood crested, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Hebei has not seen such severe flooding for 20 years, which led to lack of awareness and experience to deal with the disaster, Yang noted, adding illicit occupation of river courses had prevented flood passage and control.
Further investigation is under way, and officials who failed to perform their duties will be harshly punished, Yang added.
According to the MCA, the central government has allocated more than 1.67 billion yuan this year to help people in disaster-hit areas with emergency relocation, resettlement, reconstruction of damaged houses, and to assist those who have lost loved ones.
This year, the ministry and the China National Commission for Disaster Reduction have sent 17 emergency teams to assist relief work on the ground, the report said.