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Flood Victims' Families to Get US$18,200 Each

The families of schoolchildren killed in last Friday's devastating flood in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province are to receive 150,000 yuan (US$18,200) in compensation, a local government spokesperson announced Tuesday night.


Latest figures as at 3:30 PM yesterday show that at least 95 schoolchildren and four other villagers were killed in the disaster.


According to spokesperson Wang Tongtang, 10 students are still missing, and the death toll could rise further as previously unreported deaths are being recorded.


Xue Lingguo, whose eight-year-old daughter was killed, said the official head count didn't include his daughter because the couple buried her themselves.


He estimated at least 10 more children killed in the flood had not yet been included in the official count.


Meanwhile, the search for the missing continues.


More than 4,500 military personnel from nearby counties, helped by sniffer dogs, joined the rescue efforts.


Power was restored yesterday but not clean water. Rescue team headquarters dispensed bottled water to residents.


Also yesterday, there were conflicting reports about the two people initially held responsible for the tragedy.


Huang Mingjun, Party secretary of Shalan, and Li Zuoyu, head of the local police station, were released from custody yesterday, according to a local official in charge of search and rescue coordination.


But Jing Dianyuan, executive vice mayor of Mudanjiang, told China Daily that investigations were ongoing and that the two, who have been accused of negligence, remain in custody.


Wang said 161 pupils, who survived the fatal disaster, went back to school on Tuesday.


The local government has allocated 65,000 food ration items and 35,000 kilograms of flour to the disaster-hit areas.


Some experts were dispatched to the frontlines to help farmers resume their farming work.


Twenty-one medical teams have also been mobilized to be on standby in the disaster zone in the event of plagues or epidemics.


In another development, Zhang Zuoji, governor of Heilongjiang Province, has asked the central government to give him an administrative sanction on account of his subordinates' alleged negligence.


Zhang made the remarks when concluding a meeting on Sunday evening.


Saddened by the "sudden tragedy," Zhang said he was willing to face any disciplinary penalties from the central government.


"I ask the central government to give me sanctions," he said, claiming that the provincial government, with him as the head, should be held to account for responsibilities that are "unshirkable."


"As the chief leader of the provincial government, I would do that," he said.


According to earlier reports, some local villagers complained that when the flash flood occurred, they made reports to Shalan township government and the local police station, but didn't receive a response.


Before the flood reached Shalan, Zheng Changhui, Party secretary of Hesheng Village on the upper reaches of the Shalan River, had called the Shalan government and its police station to issue a flood warning, only to find that no one answered the phone at the government and a policeman saying they could do nothing since "everyone was out," reported China Daily on Tuesday.


"If someone had answered the phone or if enough importance had been attached to the warning, the tragedy might not have happened," the paper quoted a mother who lost her eight-year-old daughter as saying.


Zhang Lijie, a teacher with the Shalan Town Central Primary School, said she at first received a call from a Shalan middle school teacher, who said the floodwaters were headed toward her and urged her to evacuate, according to Tuesday's Beijing News.


"But it was too late," she said. "The floodwaters broke through the school's walls and the classroom was filled with yellow water immediately."


"Some of my students held on tightly to window sills and some climbed out the windows," Zhang said.


"Some climbed up over firewood stacks, some over a tractor in the playground and some merely went missing," she said.


She lost seven of her students to the flood.


Seven out of the 18 villages in Ning'an City have been devastated by the floods. About 1,333 hectares of farmland were ravaged, 55 houses damaged and 1,800 villagers' lives affected.


(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency June 15, 2005)

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