China: Floods kill 63 this month

June 17, 2008 8:14:34 AM PDT
Floodwaters began receding Tuesday in parts of southern /*China*/ after killing at least 63 people, swamping 2.5 million acres of farmland and causing billions of dollars in damage, the government said. But heavy rain forecast for the next few days in central China had officials worrying about flooding on the Yellow River, the country's second-longest waterway, which flows through some of the most populous and poorest provinces.

Although farms were submerged in the South, swollen rivers largely spared the tens of thousands of factories in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province - a huge producer of computers, shoes, toys and a wide range of other products for the global market.

In many cities in hard-hit Guangdong, people began the arduous task of cleaning the watery brown muck from their homes and shops. Local television showed employees in Huizhou in south-central Guangdong using brooms to push the mud out of the bank where they worked. Health officials wearing surgical masks walked through the streets spraying disinfectant.

At least 1.66 million people were evacuated from their homes, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said. Some said they realized it was time to move from flood-prone areas but they couldn't afford a new home.

One middle-aged farmer, who wasn't named, told Hong Kong's TVB he was afraid his brick house was ready to collapse in the district of Sanshui, about an hour's drive west of Guangzhou.

"There's nothing I can do even if I'm afraid," he said. "If I had money, I'd immediately buy a flat and move. What can I do without money?"

Rising vegetable prices were another problem in the wake of the flood. Even before rivers began rising earlier this week, shoppers were complaining about inflation. Now the latest disaster was expected to drive up prices even higher.

Long worried that inflation could spark social unrest, the central government ordered inspectors Tuesday to be alert to price gouging at markets and to immediately report offenders.

In Jiangxi province to the north, waterlogged hillsides gave way, covering houses and roads and flipping a tanker trailer on its side, state broadcaster CCTV said. The report gave no word of casualties in the area.

One of the biggest concerns for the government was the potential for a new round of flooding on the Yellow River, often called "China's Sorrow" because of its long history of shifting or spilling over its banks and causing massive disasters.

The Meteorological Administration warned that flood prevention efforts were entering a "crucial phase" because heavy rain in the next few days would raise the threat of flooding on the Yellow River, the state-run China Daily reported on its front page. Provinces on the lower and middle parts of the river, including Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong were most at danger.

"We must keep a sharp mind about the seriousness of the devastating floods and the challenging relief work," said Vice Premier Hui Liangyu in comments posted on the Web site of the state flood prevention headquarters.

But the flooding in the South hasn't been as severe as in 2005 when at least 536 people died nationwide. In 1998, flooding during China's summer season killed 4,150.

Still, the disaster took a big toll on a country still reeling from last month's monster earthquake in Sichuan province that killed nearly 70,000. The southern region - which usually enjoys moderate weather - was also ravaged by freakish blizzards that wiped out crops and paralyzed transport systems in February.

Chinese state media has given relatively little attention to the floods, instead keeping the focus firmly on Sichuan quake relief.

In a sign the dual disasters were straining resources, flood evacuees in Guangxi were forced to shelter in old, worn-out tents because the regional disaster relief bureau had shipped all its newer ones to Sichuan, according to the Web site of the Communist Party's official People's Daily.

The death toll for the latest round of flooding was 63 and 13 people were missing, the Civil Affairs Ministry said on its Web site. The hardest-hit provinces were Anhui, Hubei, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan.

About 2.5 million acres of farmland were swamped by the flood, the ministry said.

At least 1.66 million people were evacuated, and 67,000 homes collapsed, the ministry said. The economic loss was valued at $2.1 billion, the ministry said.

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Associated Press writer Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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