China

Death toll in NE China school flood reaches 117

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NING'AN, Heilongjiang, Jun 21, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The devastating flood at a school in northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province claimed the lives of 117 people, including 105 school children, local flood-relief headquarters said on Tuesday, citing the final figures.

In addition to the 109 victims reported on Monday when the rescue operation ended, eight more bodies had just been added into the toll list, said Wang Tongtang, spokesman with the local government, at a press conference.

The disaster occurred on June 10 when a flash flood, triggered by heavy rain, struck the Shalan town in Ning'an city, submerging its low-lying primary school where 352 pupils and 31 teaching staff were staying.

The disaster has aroused wide concern across the nation.

Zhang Zuoji, governor of Heilongjiang, has instructed all primary and middle schools in the province to open curricula on emergency evacuation, teaching students the way of preventing and escaping from dangerous situations.

Prior attention must be paid to ensuring students' security both in schooltime and spare time group activities, the governor ordered.

A series of precautionary measures should be improved and taken into effect to deal with new floods, said Zhang at a flood prevention conference on Monday, stressing that the effects of flood prevention and relief operations will be considered as a key standard of judging the performance of local governments at all levels.

Many surviving pupils resumed classes last week at a middle school about two kilometers away from the devastated site, daring not go back to the school. The students are expected to study in a new school which is planned to be built in a safer place.

The local government has been extending both medical and psychological help to the school children and the affected families.

Nearly 200 quarantine and medical workers are carrying door-to- door health investigations in the affected area and disseminate health information to the locals to guard against possible epidemics.

No epidemics have been reported and rescuers are still distributing relief materials and funds.

The government also plans to establish a new residential area on a high land to relocate the homeless flood victims. Many victims are living in shelter centers and tents.

Every flat is designed to be 80 square meters wide and the first period of the project will relocate more than 100 disaster- hit families.

Torrential rains and floods have claimed the lives of several hundred people, leaving numerous homeless mainly in the southern and southwestern parts of China since the rainy season started last month.