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'China's Katrina': Second City Flooded; Corruption, Incompetence Blamed

Outrage in China about the dozens of deaths last weekend when Beijing's drainage system couldn't cope with heavy rains and much of the city was flooded has been followed by more frustration and anger today.

There was flooding Thursday in Tianjin, a city of 6 million, during a downpour there. Even the state-controlled Xinhua news agency couldn't ignore what was happening. "The downpour has paralyzed traffic in downtown Tianjin, drowning many roads. Dozens of vehicles were stranded on Baidi road in Nankai district after their engines died in the flood," it reports. "Many pedestrians complained they had to trek in knee-deep water. In some sections of Xianyang Street, flood water was waist deep."

As NPR's Louisa Lim reported for Morning Edition, the flooding in Beijing — which officially killed about three dozen people and caused about $2 billion in damages — has led to some comparing the disaster and the Chinese government's seeming fecklessness in preventing it to the U.S. government's failure to prevent and deal with the damage done to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"Many are questioning why the city's infrastructure is so poor that it can't cope with heavy rain," Louisa reported, and are calling what happened "terrorism by corruption." Confidence in the government's ability to provide basic services is eroding. And many in Beijing are very skeptical about the official claims concerning the number of deaths. "I think the figures should be much higher," a "Mr. Li" told Louisa.

Louisa Lim on 'Morning Edition'

Online, there has been "rage ... over the woeful sewer system in the capital and what many saw as a feeble government response," The New York Times' IHT Rendezvous blog adds. The government, Louisa says, has been waging a "propaganda war" — hailing the "triumph and bravery" of rescuers — to try and counter the criticism.

As the latest Associated Press story says, rumors are swirling about higher-than-reported death tolls and "in Beijing's worst-affected Fangshan district, residents were compiling their own death toll online using both public and private chat rooms on the popular Baidu website."

Towns around Beijing were also flooded by the weekend storms. More problems may like immediately ahead:

" forecasts more rain throughout the remainder of the week for Beijing, which could lead to additional flash flooding on the already waterlogged grounds and mudslides in the capital's mountainous regions."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.