BEIJING -- The worst rainstorm to hit the Chinese capital in six decades has given rise to widespread anger against officials who are accused of censoring the scope of massive floods.
Government authorities raised the death toll Thursday to 77 from the previous total of 37, but some suspect the toll could be much higher from a deluge Saturday and flash flooding.
China's state-controlled media continue to publish and broadcast positive news about the relief effort while censors delete negative postings online.
Southern Weekend, a sometimes daring weekly newspaper based in southern China, lost eight pages of flood reporting to the censors, several of its journalists complained Thursday in now-deleted microblog posts.
The disaster affected 1.9 million people and caused about $1.6 billion in damage, reported the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Worst hit was the mostly rural, semimountainous Fangshan district in southwest Beijing, where officials said 38 people died. Fangshan residents, who compiled their own toll online, say the number exceeds 300.
North China is better known for drought than flooding, long the bane of south China. Beijing's drainage system was quickly overwhelmed by the downpour, according to bloggers who complained that a city that could host the 2008 Summer Olympics should be able to handle storm water.
"In addition to making the city beautiful, (officials) should also have built a working drainage system," wrote blogger Li Chengpeng in a since-deleted post. "They only know how to turn on the tap of positive propaganda, not realizing that public opinion is the most important drainage system."
Guiding public opinion remains a key goal that China's ruling Communist Party has set for the media, especially ahead of this fall's transition to new once-a-decade unelected leadership.
"The newspapers have turned a disaster, a defeat, into a heroic song of praise," said Li Datong, a veteran editor in Beijing. "Officials do this so readers will forget the disaster, the dead and the toppled houses. Ahead of the 18th Party Congress, no negative coverage is allowed."
The upbeat tone of most domestic media is grating on some ears.
"After this terrible event, government officials should be blamed, it's a time to reflect, not praise," said Liu Shijun, 30, a bank clerk who was trapped for several hours by the floods.
Even in the Internet age, China's censorship methods still prove effective, said Yang Haipeng, a former journalist with the Oriental Morning Post in Shanghai.
"So many Chinese still trust traditional media more," Yang said.