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117 Confirmed Dead in Heilongjiang Floods

According to information released by rescue headquarters today, 117 deaths have been confirmed including 105 local primary schoolchildren, in the flood disaster in Shalan Town in Ning'an, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

The latest report added another eight villagers, six of whom had first been buried by their families before reports of their deaths were made to the government.

The recovery of the bodies of three schoolchildren yesterday spelled an end to the 10-day search for missing persons. Rebuilding work on the Central Primary School is underway.

The school was devastated by a flash flood, the result of heavy torrential rainfall, and officials have blamed the school's location -- it is on much lower ground than surrounding buildings -- for the high death toll among the school's pupils.

"If only the school had been one meter higher, my daughter would not have died," cried Xue Lingguo, a Shalan resident who lost Ying Ying, 8, in the tragedy.

Children who survived the disaster have been attending classes at Shalan Middle School in the northern part of the town.

The middle school was not affected by the flood because it stands on higher ground.

By yesterday, the bodies of most of the victims had been cremated, and almost all the bereaved villagers have received 150,000 yuan (US$18,200) compensation for each victim.

Resident Wang Deli said farmers had begun replanting in fields inundated by the flood.

"We have now turned our focus to the rebuilding work," said Xu Zhicheng, who coordinated the rescue operations.

Construction of a new primary school began yesterday at a site north of the middle school at the highest point in the town. The new school will include boarding facilities for students whose homes are far away. Xinhua News Agency quoted Ma Li, deputy secretary-general of Mudanjiang government, as saying: "We hope to finish the construction before the new semester begins in September."

On June 13, Huang Mingjun, secretary of Shalan Township committee of the Communist Party of China, and Li Zuoyu, police chief of Shalan Township, were held responsible for failing to organize a timely rescue. According to local government spokesperson Wang Tongtang, whether they are guilty of dereliction of duty will be decided in a week.

On June 13, Zhang Zuoji, the governor of Heilongjiang Province, asked the central government, in a meeting that was attended by reporters and officials from Beijing, the province and Ning'an, to impose an administrative sanction on him for his subordinates' alleged negligence.

(China Daily, China.org.cn June 21, 2005)

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