07/21/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Floods continue to kill in China

Death toll tops 700 with more than 300 missing and billions in damages. Torrential rains continue as Three Gorges Dam faces probable overflow.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Flooding in China has killed more than 700 people; more than 300 are missing in what is expected to be the worst year since the catastrophic rains of 1998. In the first high-level press briefing after weeks of deadly flooding, officials said that floodwaters inundated 27 provinces, affecting 117 million people and forcing 8 million to relocate. Direct economic losses have totalled at least 142 billion yuan (US$ 21 billion) and destroyed 645,000 houses.

The situation is critical, Liu Ning, general secretary of the government's flood prevention agency, told the news conference. “Since 60 to 80 percent of the annual rain level occurs in June, July and August, we should be prepared to prevent and combat potential disasters," Liu said, adding, “In southern China, the rainfall is 30 [. . .] per cent higher than the historical average.”

Liu said more than 230 rivers in the country have seen their water level rise past warning points, with 25 exceeding historic highs.

Meteorologists, he added, are concerned that heavy rains could spread to northern China, possibly causing flooding along major rivers such as the Huai, Yellow and Songhua.

The situation is especially crucial for the Three Gorges dam, the largest in the world built on the Yangtze, which is currently at record levels, but holding. Yesterday, the flow of the water overnight was the fastest ever recorded, at 70,000 cubic metres per second.

“The sluice gates have kept the water levels of the dam at 154 metres,” he said, but the dam was built for water levels as high as 175.

Things are expected to get worse as this summer’s typhoon season gets underway. Many fear a repeat of the disaster of 12 years ago when flooding of the Yangtze, China’s longest river, killed 4,150 people and displaced 18 million.

At the time, the Three Gorges Dam did not exist. Now it will be put to its most important test since it was built, Liu said.

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