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September 26, 2017

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Beijing sees reshuffle amid flood scandal

BEIJING -- Beijing's mayor and a vice mayor have resigned, state media reported Wednesday, in what is likely a routine reshuffling that comes amid public questioning of the city government's handling of rainstorms that left at least 37 dead in the capital.

The announcement came as more rain was forecast to hit Beijing and growing signs that the death toll from last weekend's rain could jump higher. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the top official in the hardest-hit district said their fatality and injury figures were still preliminary.

China Central Television showed new amateur video of the deadly flash flood that hit the rural community of Fangshan Saturday, with pictures of a high river of brown water roiling through the small town's streets with enough force to push cars along.

Xinhua said district head Qi Hong told reporters Tuesday that "Fangshan has suffered major losses, and the numbers are still in the process of being compiled." The district's fatality figures were never separately released but incorporated in the overall city toll.

The Beijing News reported online that Li Shixiang, head of the Beijing government committee set up to deal with the disaster's aftermath, told members at their first meeting Wednesday that updated information about the missing and dead would be released "in due time."

Outgoing Mayor Guo Jinlong had already been tapped for a promotion to the city's top position as Communist Party secretary, so his resignation was not unexpected. One of his vice mayors, Ji Lin, also resigned and state media reported earlier that Ji had taken up a position as head of the city's Political and Legal Committee.

The massive flooding was a major embarrassment for China's capital, which spent billions of dollars modernizing the city while apparently neglecting its drainage systems.

State media, analysts and ordinary netizens have piled on criticism of the city's handling of the crisis and its lack of preparedness.

Though Guo's promotion appears to be moving forward, the storm and its fallout are a taint on him and his mentor and ally President Hu Jintao. As Beijing's party secretary, Guo is almost certain to be named to the powerful 25-member Politburo at a party congress later this year.

Xinhua said Wang Anshun, a Beijing city official since 2007, was appointed acting mayor.

The Beijing Meteorological Bureau said heavy rain was expected for Beijing later Wednesday and Thursday, and warned of possible flash flooding and mudslides in the capital's mountainous outskirts, including already hard-hit Fangshan.

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