China evacuates 100,000 as rains swell rivers

In Asia, Floods & Storms, News Headlines

BEIJING (AFP) – China has evacuated more than 100,000 people as a river burst its banks and heavy rains continued in flood-hit regions along the perilously swollen Yangtze river, state media said Saturday.

China is grappling with its worst flooding in a decade, with at least 1,100 people killed or missing this year, and Premier Wen Jiabao warned Saturday of possibly worse to come during an inspection tour of flood-hit Hubei province.

Warning the situation was at a “crucial stage,” Wen called for stepped-up flood prevention amid expected further flooding, according to a state TV report that showed him wading through knee-deep Yangtze floodwaters in the city of Wuhan.

At least 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes in southwestern Sichuan province after torrential rains caused waters to rise sharply in the Jialing River, a provincial news website said.

The Jialing is a major tributary of the Yangtze, China’s longest river.

In Shaanxi province, to the north of Sichuan, the Luofu river burst its banks in the city of Huayin, forcing 6,400 people from their homes, official Xinhua news agency said.

About 16 square kilometres (six square miles) of land was expected to be flooded as a result, it quoted a city official as saying. The Luofu feeds into the Yellow river, China’s second-longest.

The flooding, mostly in the country’s southern half, has caused economic losses of at least 22 billion dollars and affected 120 million people, the government has said.

It has triggered fears of a repeat of disastrous Yangtze floods in 1998, the country’s worst in recent memory, which killed more than 4,000 people and forced the evacuation of 18 million.

In Hubei, floods from torrential rains overnight Friday killed six people, left eight others missing, and forced the evacuation of 7,700 around the city of Yichang near the Three Gorges Dam, Xinhua said.

The massive hydroelectric project on the Yangtze river has come under scrutiny as dam authorities struggle to drain its fast-rising reservoir — swollen by upstream rains — while avoiding swamping communities downstream.

Its huge spillgates have gushed gigantic torrents of white water for days as the reservoir on Friday rose to a high for the year, nearly touching the dam’s 159-metre mark, the government said. Its maximum is believed to be 175 metres.

In welcome news, authorities said the amount of water pouring into the reservoir upstream from Sichuan and other rain-hit areas had dropped to 34,000 cubic metres per second on Friday.

That figure represents less than half the inflow seen earlier in the week, when it hit 70,000 cubic metres per second — the greatest amount since the dam was built and the biggest flood crest on the Yangtze since 1987.

However, the flows were expected to pick up again as more rain was forecast upstream.

The government has long claimed that the dam — the world’s largest hydroelectric facility — would help tame the often unruly Yangtze, but officials have recently begun to emphasise its limits.

“The Three Gorges Dam is not a panacea,” Wei Shanzhong, deputy director of the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission, was quoted Friday by state media as saying.

He said authorities faced a delicate task in coming weeks in releasing water without triggering devastating floods in already waterlogged communities downstream.

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