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More casualties from China hail storm

Emergency workers in Henan province rush an injured man to a nearby hospital  

Staff and wires

HONG KONG, China -- The death toll from a freak hail storm in China has risen to 25, further fueling complaints from residents over the failure of forecasters to issue adequate warnings.

Fierce storms on Friday pummeled the Henan and Guangdong provinces, causing a shower of egg-sized hail and rising floodwaters.

The hailstorm, with winds of up to 75 kmh, uprooted trees, smashed car windscreens, cut off electricity and destroyed buildings.

Locals described it as the worst hailstorm in at least half a century, state radio said. Television news showed pictures of a gutted petrol station, and victims being loaded into ambulances.

The violent hailstorm only lasted for half an hour but by the time it had finished, emergency rooms in the cities of Zhengzhou and Luoyang were soon crammed full of people with head gashes and other injuries, local radio reported.

The Henan Province Meteorological Station issued a warning to local governments earlier Friday that the storm would hit the northern part of the province, but the warning failed to reach the public in time, said radio station manager Gu Wanlong.

Local residents inundated government hotlines with angry calls as a result, saying an inaccurate forecast left them unprepared.

"We said there would be a thunderstorm. It's difficult to predict hail," Gu was quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency as saying.

Gu explained it was hard to accurately predict when such weather condition could strike due to limited equipment.

He also admitted that casualties could have been reduced if the public had been warned.

Stricter standards

Meanwhile, Zhengzhou city's deputy mayor Yao Daixian told Xinhua he does not expect massive damage from the storm, but demanded stricter housing standards and higher levels of disaster preparedness.

The provincial meteorological bureau meanwhile said the government should establish an effective system for early warning and disaster prevention.

Telecommunications, electricity, and water supplied that were temporarily cut were restored by Saturday.

Casualties are expected to climb as floodwaters submerged vast areas of Henan and Guangdong.

An official from the Henan anti-flood center on Monday said some 16 people perished in the province of Henan from floodwaters.

The Beijing Youth Daily also reported that 15 people were killed when buildings in Henan, the capital of Zengzhou, collapsed.

In Guangdong, at least nine people have been killed and 25 others missing due to the flash-floods, which has affected 31,200 people in 11 towns, Xinhua reported.

Most of the affected residents have already been evacuated to safer grounds, although officials from the provincial weather bureau said the heavy rains had stopped and no flooding was expected over the next two days.

The recent calamity is raising fears that another wave of deluges may engulf wide parts of the country as the rainy season bites, state media said on Monday.

About 800 people were killed in May and June by pre-wet season floods.

That flooding provoked fears of a repeat of 1998, when some of the worst rains and floods in half a century killed more than 4,000 people.


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