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Russia arrests officials after deadly floods
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) July 22, 2012

Record levels of rain kill 37 in Beijing
Beijing (AFP) July 22, 2012 - The death toll from the heaviest rain to hit Beijing in over 60 years has risen to 37, Chinese state media reported on Sunday.

Xinhua news agency said more victims of the downpours which battered much of the capital throughout Saturday had been discovered, revising up considerably the number of dead from ten.

The rainstorms led to the evacuation of more than 50,000 people from their homes in Beijing, mostly from the city's outlying mountainous districts, as up to 46 centimetres (18 inches) of rain lashed some areas, the agency added.

Xinhua quoted the Beijing municipal government as saying 25 of the victims had drowned, six had died when their houses collapsed, one was killed by a lightning strike and five had been electrocuted.

Twenty-two of the bodies have been identified, it added.

The agency had earlier reported the death toll at 10 but said it was expected to rise as numerous people, including rescue workers, were missing.

The government flood control headquarters told AFP damage assessments were ongoing.

Three bodies were recovered in Beijing's mountainous Fangshan region where several landslides were reported, China National Radio reported.

Up to 46 centimetres of rain fell in Fangshan district, the most rain to hit the city in a 14-hour period since records began in 1951, Xinhua said.

Photos showed entire parking lots flooded, while rescue and traffic workers were seen diving underwater to unclog roadside drains as helpless drivers looked on from partially submerged cars.

Numerous roads in the capital were submerged under up to a metre of water, while 500 outbound flights were cancelled and at least 80,000 passengers stranded.

On Sunday, clean-up crews were out repairing damage under largely sunny skies, while workers scrambled to drain up to one million cubic metres (35 million cubic feet) of water from the sewer system.

Despite the damage, the rain was largely welcomed in drought-prone northern China which has suffered from a lack of rain over the last decade.

More torrential rain was forecast in China's northeast and southwest, after at least 10 other people were killed since Friday.

In the northern province of Shanxi province, four people died and one remained missing after their pick-up truck was swept into a river as they attempted to cross a bridge, Xinhua said.

Landslides in southwestern Sichuan province resulted in six deaths, provincial flood control and drought relief officials told the agency.

Russia on Sunday announced the arrest of three local officials for negligence during flooding that killed 172 people and has caused a political headache for President Vladimir Putin.

The Investigative Committee revealed the surprise detentions during a lightning visit to the devastated Black Sea village of Krymsk by Putin's powerful domestic security mastermind Alexander Bastrykin.

The Krymsk district chiefs now face up to seven years in prison -- a sentence rarely seen in such cases and one stressing the urgency Putin attaches to the first big disaster to strike since his return in May.

"Essentially ignoring the weather service forecasts, the suspects did not inform the population about the looming danger and did not take steps to evacuate people," committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in televised remarks.

He added that the head of the nearby village of Nizhnebakansk may be held later on the same charge of failing to properly alert locals about the possible dangers of a fast-approaching thunderstorm.

Most of the victims died in their sleep in pre-dawn July 7 flooding that also destroyed the property of some 30,000 people in the worst such disaster in post-Soviet times.

Putin himself broadly hinted at possible sackings when he raced to the little southern village for the second time in just a few days on July 15.

State television then showed a remarkable sequence of some 20 minutes during which Putin patiently fielded complaints from irate locals who questioned official accounts of why the floods came.

Many spoke of hearing no flood warning alarms and only receiving text messages on mobile phones that themselves cut off as the storms progressed.

Local news reports have also said those applying for emergency assistance often had to sign documents stating they had received due notice about a potential flood.

"People here think that there was no early warning -- despite the fact that the previous head of the administration said that there was one," Putin told local officials after being briefed by the residents of Krymsk.

Putin's get-tough image suffered a bruising blow at the start of his first term as president in 2000 when he holidayed while the nation watched in horror as 118 seamen perished in the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk.

The KGB chief has worked hard to show himself in command of the disasters that have since clouded his 12-year rule.

State and Kremlin-allied media meanwhile have revved up an apparent campaign to deflect any blame from Putin and implicate locals who do not report directly to Moscow.

The website -- a popular outlet with top security sources and seemingly close government ties -- said the detained Krymsk district chief was alerted of the flood danger a full three hours before the river banks broke.

Post-flood recovery work has remained a top item on state television news for much of the past two weeks as images of doctors giving vaccinations mingle those of worker brigades pounding away at roads and homes.

The media campaign has extended to the entire Krasnodar region -- a recent recipient of billions of dollars in contracts and federal assistance linked to preparations for the high-profile Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

"Kyrmsk is undergoing a transformation and normal life is returning," one report on local Krasnodar Plus television declared this week.

The official Investigative Committee meanwhile said that the four officials stood accused of "violating people's constitutionally guaranteed right to life and the legally protected interests of society and the state".


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