Disasters take highest toll since 1998

By Guan Xiaofeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-05 07:18

Natural disasters last year took the heaviest toll on lives since 1998, a senior official said yesterday, as the government gets set to spend more money for setting up an advanced emergency response system.

Ministry of Civil Affairs figures show natural disasters, such as typhoons, floods, landslides, mud-flows, hailstorms and earthquakes, claimed 3,155 lives in 2006, a quarter more than the previous year.

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Natural disasters killed 5,511 people in 1998, most of them because of heavy flooding in the Yangtze River area.

"A majority of victims last year lost their lives in major disasters," an official with the ministry's Department of Disaster Relief, Li Baojun, said. "About half of the deaths were caused by typhoons."

Each of last year's five major disasters claimed more than 50, killing a total of 1,716 people, or more than half of the overall fatality figure.

Two major typhoons, Bilis and Saomai, killed 848 and 483 people, accounting for four in 10 deaths overall.

Building collapses, landslides, mud- and rock-flows and lightning strikes were the other major causes of the fatalities.

Hunan, Fujian and Yunnan provinces bore the brunt of the natural disasters, losing 588, 503 and 409 people.

"Handling some disasters such as typhoons were beyond our capacity," Li said. "For example, Typhoon Saomai was the worst in 50 years."

Li said the central government would allocate more funds to establish a more efficient system to handle disasters.

China has 10 national-level bases for disaster-relief materials, most of which are located in the eastern part of the country, Li said, adding "we will build more bases in the western parts of the country".

People's Daily Online quoted department Director Wang Zhenyao as saying that though China had made progress in handling natural disasters, it still has to prepare better for extreme weather.

For example, the authorities were caught off-guard when Typhoon Saomai slammed directly into Shacheng Harbor in East China's Fujian Province, even though it was a rare occurrence. The typhoon generated winds gusting at great speeds and unusually high waves, overturning many ships and boats.

Wang said a big problem for the authorities is convincing people to evacuate when disasters are imminent.

A lot of lives could have been saved if people had left their homes and belongings and moved to safer places in Fujian but they didn't believe the typhoon would be as strong as the authorities warned.

Hence, one of the government's tasks would be to raise the awareness of people, especially those living in disaster-prone areas.

(China Daily 01/05/2007 page1)

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