China storm toll crosses 600

The death toll in China from Tropical Storm Bilis has risen to 612 with another 208 people missing, as the country braces itself for the arrival of Typhoon Kaemi.

    China is braced for more wet weather this week

    The report of the new toll by the state Xinhua news agency is the second major increase in the number of casualties from the devastating floods caused by Bilis and raises the number of dead by 82 from Friday and the number of missing by 78.

    The national disaster relief commission which compiles the figures gave no reason for the sudden jump in the numbers of people killed since Bilis first struck south and central China on July 14.

    Local officials had been quoted by state media as saying the fast-rising death toll could be because authorities were initially focused on disaster relief rather than counting bodies.

    Some officials also blamed the breakdown in power supply and communication and transportation infrastructure for complicating the collection of information on death and damage.

    Cover-up fear

    However, concerns have been raised that there may have been a cover-up.

    The Ministry of Civil Affairs has sent an investigative team to Hunan province, which bore the brunt of the destruction from Bilis, and also issued a notice warning against hiding the true extent of the damage.

    Over three million people
    have been evacuated

    Chinese officials at local level are often known to instinctively cover up bad news, for fear of being punished.

    The commission said Monday a total of 3.07 million people had  been evacuated.

    Typhoon warning

    As China recovers from Bilis, it was bracing itself for Typhoon Kaemi, expected to hit Fujian province on Tuesday or early Wednesday, Xinhua quoted the Fujian observatory as saying.

    Neighboring Zhejiang province is also expecting severe weather.

    Some 3,000 armed police equipped with speed boats, life vests and waterproof lights have been deployed in Fujian province to conduct any eventual rescue and relief operations, Xinhua said.

    The observatory has warned of rainstorms and winds of up to 72km per hour.

    At 1200 GMT on Monday, Kaemi was about 200km east  of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, the Hong Kong Observatory said.



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