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China School Flood May Have Killed 200

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BEIJING - Floodwaters that swept down a mountain and through a packed primary school in northeast China may have killed 200 people, mostly children, local residents said on Monday.

Soldiers had joined rescue workers and distraught parents to search for missing children and villagers feared buried under mud, or washed away by Friday's torrent, a local woman said by telephone.

An afternoon downpour of 200 mm (7.8 inches) in 40 minutes triggered the flood which was described as the worst in the area in 200 years.

"I heard there were already 199 bodies at the local crematorium by this morning," the woman, an employee at a post office next to the devastated school, told Reuters.

The official death toll from the flood in the town of Shalan in Heilongjiang province stood at 92, including 88 children, with 17 people missing.

More than 300 children were at the Shalan Central Primary School, build decades ago on low-lying land on the north bank of a river, when the flood surge hit, the postal worker said.

Most of the more than 90 refrigerators at the local funeral home each contained the bodies of two children, villager Liu Zixia, whose daughter drowned, was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Morning Post on Monday.

One distraught father said he saw 40 bodies floating in waist-deep water and found the body of his son lying across a desk.

"The desk's surface was only a little higher than the water level... His nose, ears and mouth were filled with and garbage, and when I touched him, I found he was dead," he was quoted as saying.

Many villagers had already found their children's bodies by the time the rescue teams had arrived, the Shanghai Morning Post reported.

Parents staged protests at the weekend about the inefficiency of the rescue efforts, but things had since quietened down, the post office employee said.

The town's Communist Party and police chiefs were under investigation for "negligence in offering timely rescue," sources said.

Heilongjiang Governor Zhang Zuoji had traveled to the flood site, about 450 km (275 miles) from the provincial capital Harbin, to coordinate the rescue and relief efforts.

Surviving students resumed classes on Monday and were receiving special "lessons concerning epidemic prevention and psychological health," a spokesperson said.

China suffers widespread flooding and drought each year, causing huge loss of life. Recent heavy rains and floods have left more than 200 people dead in southern China.

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