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China censors coverage of deadly Beijing floods after mass criticism

BEIJING -- Beijing's propaganda chief has ordered Chinese media to stick to good-news about weekend floods, according to a report, after the death of at least 37 people sparked fierce criticism of the government.

Lu Wei told media outlets to stick to stories of “achievements worthy of praise and tears,” the Beijing Times daily reported Monday, as authorities tried to stem the tide of accusations that they failed to do enough.

Residents of China's rapidly modernizing capital have said some of the deaths could have been prevented if better warnings had been issued and the city's ancient drainage systems modernized.

Many took to China's popular microblogs, known as weibos, to question the official death toll of 37 issued on Sunday, although by Tuesday, censors had begun deleting critical posts from the Internet.

Residents of the worst-hit area of Fangshan, on the mountainous southwestern outskirts of China's sprawling capital, told AFP the government was doing little to help find their missing loved-ones.

“The government doesn't help at all, every family is responsible for searching for their own family members,” said Wang Baoxiang, whose 30-year-old nephew had been missing since going out in Saturday's rains.

The China Daily, a state-run English-language newspaper with a predominantly foreign readership, ran an editorial on Tuesday urging Beijing authorities to improve the drainage system, which it said “leaves much to be desired.”

But much of China's state-run media steered away from critical stories, focusing on human interest angles of residents helping each other out.

Senior Beijing leaders at an emergency meeting late Monday urged greater efforts to find those still missing, identify the bodies and repair flood-damaged roads.

“(The storm) was an extremely large natural disaster rarely seen in Beijing... bringing serious losses to the lives and property of the people,” the Beijing Daily quoted mayor Guo Jinlong as saying.

“All areas of society are greatly concerned with the numbers of fatalities, (so) we must assess the causes of death,” he said, adding any increases in the death toll should be reported immediately.

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In this photo taken on Monday, July 23, a crane lifts a damaged vehicle as workers clean up the debris following a flood in Fangshan district in Beijing. (AP)

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