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Storm death toll in China hits 482

3 million flee landslides, floods

BEIJING -- China's death toll from tropical storm Bilis more than doubled to 482 after a hard-hit inland province reported a sharp rise in fatalities, state media said yesterday.

Authorities in Hunan Province said 346 people died in floods triggered by the storm, while 89 others were missing, the Xinhua News Agency said. The province previously reported 92 deaths.

Bilis slammed into China's southeastern coast on July 14 and churned inland, triggering flooding and landslides. Nearly 3 million people were forced to flee their homes, the government said.

The higher death toll in Hunan included 197 victims in the village of Zixing , where a state television reporter found the local government had underreported the number of deaths, Xinhua said.

Luo Xiwu, a Communist Party official from Zixing, was quoted by Xinhua as saying the disaster caused a ``breakdown of communication and traffic systems," which made it hard for authorities to collect information on deaths and damage.

``The officials did not shift their work focus from rescue and relief to death toll head count and damage investigation until rainstorms stopped and floods receded," Luo said.

Chinese officials frequently are accused of hiding accident deaths and other unfavorable information. The Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a warning yesterday to local authorities that they would be punished if they failed to report disasters accurately.

The death toll in densely populated Guangdong Province, which borders Hong Kong, rose yesterday to 63, while the toll in neighboring Guangxi Province increased to 30, Xinhua said. It said there were 43 deaths in coastal Fujian Province.

Losses in Guangdong totaled $1.1 billion, the report said.

Flood waters washed away roads, cut power supplies, and submerged part of China's main north-south railway line in a swath across the south.

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