Dozens dead, missing in China floods

BEIJING (AFP) – Floods and landslides triggered by torrential downpours in China have left scores of people dead and missing in recent days, officials said Monday, as water levels in major rivers reached dangerous highs.

Eight people were confirmed dead and 57 were still missing after landslides Sunday buried parts of the city of Ankang in the northern province of Shaanxi, the local government said on its website.

Water levels in the Han river in Ankang reached 50-year highs after rains which began on Friday pummelled the region, toppling more than 6,000 homes and forcing the evacuation of over 100,000 people, the government said.

Local authorities were scrambling to organise search and rescue operations, while the exact toll was still being compiled, it added.

In neighbouring Sichuan province in China’s southwest, the Jialing and the Qu rivers, both tributaries to the Yangtze, exceeded warning levels by up to nine metres (30 feet), flooding numerous towns and cities, press reports said.

State television showed the swollen rivers overflowing banks and inundating urban areas with brown, muddy waters, forcing residents to evacuate or seek shelter on the upper floors of buildings.

At least 123 people were killed, missing or buried due to floods, landslides and other rain-related disasters in Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces since last Thursday, with more than 700,000 evacuated, the civil affairs ministry said.

That toll appeared to include the Ankang landslides.

It adds to several hundred already reported killed or missing in floods nationwide this year, especially in June and July, when China began experiencing some of its worst flooding in more than a decade.

Persistent heavy rainfall has also caused water along the Yangtze — the nation’s longest river — to exceed danger levels, the civil affairs ministry said Monday.

State media reports said water levels in the upper reaches of the Yangtze had already surpassed those of 1998, when more than 4,150 people were killed and 18 million evacuated in China’s worst flooding in recent memory.

The massive water flow on the Yangtze was also posing the biggest challenge to the Three Gorges Dam — the world’s largest hydroelectric project — since it was completed in 2006, the China Daily newspaper said.

More heavy rain was forecast along the Yangtze’s upper reaches, which would raise the flood pressures on major lakes downstream like the Dongting and Poyang, where water levels were already near warning marks, officials warned.

The government had previously said that as of July 13, 567 people were killed and 251 missing in floods nationwide since the start of the year, with economic losses nearing 116 billion yuan (17 billion dollars).

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