Qiao Long | Radio Free Asia

Authorities in flood-hit southwestern China have prevented state-controlled media from reporting on the true extent of flood damage alongside Yangtze river districts in and around the megacity of Chongqing, RFA has learned.

Video footage posted to social media by residents near Chongqing’s Qijiang river showed murky yellow floodwaters heavy with silt pouring under a bridge as a flood siren wailed in the streets outside, while further footage showed similarly murky and turbulent waters overflowing into riverside residential compounds and pathways.

In the compilation of video shots, at least one three-story village home is shown washed into the river by the flood peak, as someone shouts “This house has been washed into the river, and the railway line washed away by the river!”

A Chongqing resident who gave only her surname Zhu said the city, which sits at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, is reeling under the worst flooding in 80 years.

“There have been heavy rainstorms for the last few days, and a lot of cities and villages are completely under water right now,” Zhu said. “Some internet users have been trying to show what is really happening online, but they are being suppressed and the news covered up by the Chongqing authorities.”

“They see people who try to report the truth about what is going on as criminals, which I think is terrible,” she said.

State-run media in the city have played down the extent of the flooding in recent weeks of large areas of Chongqing and southern China.

Reports that some 40,000 people were evacuated after waters rose in the Qijiang River didn’t make headline news, but were placed in less obvious sections of print and online media.

But social media users have been uploading photos and live video footage of cars drowned on city streets, floodwaters pounding through channels and drainage systems, and low-lying areas of land under water.

Chongqing police have issued an emergency warning that anyone found to have posted news of the flooding online in an “irresponsible” manner will be immediately detained, RFA has learned.

Hard to know what to do

Chongqing-based legal scholar Song Jiansheng said such information blackouts make it harder for people to know what action to take during natural disasters.

“When the authorities block this kind of information, people don’t know how to stay safe,” Song said. “It’s impossible for the government to do a good job of disaster relief under such conditions.”

Song said that any kind of cover-up or suppression of information in China has only one goal: to shore up the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s grip on power by preventing dissent and unrest.

“They hide their own incompetence when they stop information from getting out,” Song said. “But such major disasters often require the government to take reasonable action.”

Meanwhile, state media reported that flooding and mudslides have killed at least three people and forced evacuations for thousands of people in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

China’s national observatory issued a high alert for rainstorms across vast stretches of the country for the next 24 hours, after towns and villages in Guizhou were hit by mudslides, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Seasonal flooding this year has left more than 20 people dead or missing. Direct economic losses have already been estimated at more than U.S.$500 million, with the crucial tourism industry in the southern Guangxi region particularly hard hit, the Associated Press reported.

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