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China premier vows to punish officials over flood deaths

August 20, 2021 GMT
In this Aug. 18, 2021, photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, wearing a face mask, visits the tunnel of subway line 5 in Zhengzhou city in central China's Henan province. Li vowed to hold officials accountable over mistakes during recent floods that led to the deaths of hundreds of people in a major provincial capital, including 14 who were trapped when the city’s subway system was inundated. (Rao Aimin/Xinhua via AP)
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In this Aug. 18, 2021, photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, wearing a face mask, visits the tunnel of subway line 5 in Zhengzhou city in central China's Henan province. Li vowed to hold officials accountable over mistakes during recent floods that led to the deaths of hundreds of people in a major provincial capital, including 14 who were trapped when the city’s subway system was inundated. (Rao Aimin/Xinhua via AP)
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In this Aug. 18, 2021, photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, wearing a face mask, visits the tunnel of subway line 5 in Zhengzhou city in central China's Henan province. Li vowed to hold officials accountable over mistakes during recent floods that led to the deaths of hundreds of people in a major provincial capital, including 14 who were trapped when the city’s subway system was inundated. (Rao Aimin/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has vowed to hold officials accountable over mistakes during recent floods that led to the deaths of hundreds of people in a major provincial capital, including 14 who were trapped when the city’s subway system was inundated.

More than than 300 people were killed in last month’s floods in Henan province, including at least 292 in the provincial capital Zhengzhou.

Li on Thursday visited the tunnel of the Zhengzhou’s subway line where passengers recorded harrowing video of flood waters pouring in and filling cars above head height on July 20.

City residents, who laid flowers at a station entrance despite police efforts to block off the area, have complained that officials should have closed the subway because of torrential rains.

China regularly suffers seasonal flooding, but this year has been particularly severe with torrential rains reaching from the center of the country as far north as Beijing.

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The floods came on top of efforts to contain an outbreak of the delta variant of COVID-19 that has particularly affected Henan and the eastern province of Jiangsu.

China’s worst floods in recent years were in 1998, when more than 2,000 people were killed and almost 3 million homes were destroyed, mostly along China’s mightiest river, the Yangtze.

Direct losses from this summer’s flooding are estimated at more than $14 billion.

Li was once a top official in Henan for six years, during which the province was hit by a major AIDS outbreak, deadly fires and other man-made disasters. He was promoted to higher office in Beijing and had at one time been seen as China’s potential future president and party secretary before being eclipsed by Xi Jinping.