2016-06-24 04:41:18

A local newspaper from the area worst hit by Thursday’s devastating tornado had warned readers to not believe internet rumors of an impending storm, it has emerged.

“Rumors about a big rainstorm in Yancheng have taken over people’s newsfeeds,” said an article in Wednesday’s edition of the Yancheng Evening News, a newspaper based in Yancheng City, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province. “The city’s meteorological department is urgently dispelling such rumors.”

The following day, a tornado and torrential rains hit Jiangsu province, ripping up trees and pulling down houses. The latest death toll puts the number of fatalities at 98, with an estimated 800 people injured.

The article has since been deleted from the newspaper’s online edition, but a cached version was still accessible as of Friday. It reported that the city’s meteorological office predicted 10 days of downfall, but did not believe that torrential rain could be sustained for several days.

According to the article, the rumors in question had in recent days caused many citizens and departments to call the meteorological office to inquire about the impending weather situation. “This has led to a certain degree of anxiety and panic,” the article said.

The day-by-day forecast issued by the Yancheng Meteorological Bureau for the week beginning June 20 referred to heavy spells of rain or thunderstorms but did not warn of tornadoes. At 2:09 p.m. on Thursday, approximately 20 minutes before the tornado struck, the bureau issued a “yellow warning” on its official Weibo microblog account that warned of thunder and lightning, heavy rain, and high winds in areas around Jiangsu province.

A yellow alert is the third out of four levels, indicating a relatively serious weather event.

A spokesperson for the Yancheng Meteorological Bureau told Sixth Tone she was not able to accept media requests, upon orders from “her leadership.”

When asked for comment regarding Wednesday’s article, a member of staff from the Yancheng Evening News telephone hotline told Sixth Tone that no one was available to respond.

Thursday’s tragedy has led some social media users to question the apparent lack of warning. In one of the most upvoted comments under a Weibo post by Sina Jiangsu, one user asked: “Why was their no warning before the disaster? Why? Is the technology not developed enough?”

Xue Feng, researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Science, told Sixth Tone that “Tornadoes are basically impossible to predict in the way you can predict the daily weather a day or three in advance.”

He said satellite and radar technologies are not yet up to the task as tornadoes are relatively small, but that in some cases it was possible to issue an alert 10 to 30 minutes beforehand.

Additional reporting by Shen Zhefan. With contributions from Feng Jiayun.

(Header image: Two women walk among the ruins in Funing County, Yancheng City, Jiangsu province, June 24, 2016. VCG)