China floods kill 114, dozens missing

Floods unleashed by torrential rains have killed at least 114 people and left dozens more missing in southwestern China, prompting authorities to put the massive Three Gorges hydroelectric project on alert, officials reported on Tuesday.

Authorities called in thousands of army and navy personnel to help after five days of continual downpours in Sichuan province. An alert was ordered and navigation halted as flood crests passed through the Three Gorges Dam along the flood-swollen Yangtze River, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

More rains were expected, it said.

State television showed violent torrents of murky water spewing through the dam’s sluice gates. Navigation through its huge locks was not expected to resume until Thursday, it said.

The greatest damage was from landslides and flash floods sweeping through mountain valleys.

At least 81 people were confirmed dead and another 42 were missing in Sichuan, said He Rongjun, a spokesperson for the province’s disaster relief office.

About 8 900 people were injured or sick due to the floods, he said.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are seriously affected.
Seven thousand people in Chongqing, for example, are still surrounded by water and cut off,” said John Sparrow, regional information director for the Red Cross.

“The great needs are to ensure there is sufficient shelter and to get food in and to get in necessary medicine.”

Forty-six of the deaths occurred in Dazhou town. TV showed survivors picking through rubbish-filled downtown streets. In other cities, men in chest-high waters pulled women and children on truck inner-tubes and plastic washtubs.

Another 33 people were reported dead in sprawling Chongqing municipality along the Yangtze, upstream from the Three Gorges, official newspapers reported, citing local government spokesperson He Lingyun. He said 33 people were missing there.

The central government allocated 40-million yuan ($4,82-million) in relief funds to the region, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Flooding losses were initially estimated at 2,6-billion yuan ($315-million), it said.

More than 3 000 people left homeless by the flooding were sheltering in schools and government buildings, and rescuers were handing out quilts, medicine, bottled water and instant noodles, the agency reported.

Medical teams were sent to Chongqing’s Kaixian county to help prevent disease outbreaks after 100 000 people there were left without safe drinking water, it said.

None of Kaixian’s 55 towns escaped flooding, and more than 87 000 people were still trapped by high waters, the reports said.

In a separate report, Xinhua said heavy rains on Tuesday caused a mudslide that killed one person and left five missing in Lijiang, a town in Yunnan province south of Sichuan.

The halt to navigation on the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric project, was the first since the dam was reopened to river traffic in June 2003, the reports said.

The project, which required 1,3-million people to relocate, has been touted by authorities as a means of stemming flooding along the Yangtze.

Seasonal rains wreak havoc across much of China every summer, and with the amount of rainfall increasing each year the problems are only likely to grow worse, Sparrow said.

“You cannot build defences in concrete and steel against flash floods and a changing climate,” he said.

“We must invest in community level disaster preparedness.” - Sapa-AP

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