Southern China flooding kills 57

June 16, 2008 9:08:50 AM PDT
Massive flooding across a broad stretch of southern China killed almost 60 people and forced 1.3 million others from their homes, state media reported Monday. People were forced to flee their homes across nine provinces, including Sichuan, still reeling from last month's earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people, the official Xinhua News Agency said. At least 57 people died and eight were missing, Xinhua reported.

Heavy rain is expected to pummel the southern region over the next few days, said a spokesman at the China Meteorological Administration who refused to give his name, which is customary.

Water levels on the swollen Wujiang River in Guangdong province rose to nearly 79 feet, far surpassing the "dangerous level" of 20 feet, he said.

Heavy rain in Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces will further raise water levels downstream, especially in the coastal manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong, Xinhua reported. Most of those areas are expected to receive more heavy rain over the next 10 days.

The worst-hit province was Guangdong, where 20 people died and eight were missing, and nearly 5.8 million people in 17 cities were affected, Xinhua said.

The North River (Bei Jiang) swallowed up a cluster of brick homes with orange-tile roofs on its banks, where about 100 people lived in the Sanshui district of Foshan, a city about an hour away from the provincial capital, Guangzhou.

One man, who would only give his surname, Huang, stood on a dike and looked across the river at his submerged home as his neighbors crossed back and forth on wooden skiffs.

"The water came in fast. It started rising yesterday morning and by noon, our homes were swamped," Huang said.

"So far the government is ignoring us and not providing any place to stay," he said. "We're living on the second floor of the tallest building in our neighborhood. We had to do the same thing during the flood in 2005, which was much worse than this one."

Huang worked in Sanshui's southern port, which was also flooded. Tall towers of shipping containers were inundated by water.

Streets and houses along the Xijiang River in Guangdong were submerged in the worst flooding to hit the Pearl River Delta region in 50 years, the official China Daily newspaper said.

"A major flood is feared if rain continues," Huang Boqing, deputy director of the Guangdong flood control and drought relief headquarters, was quoted as saying.

Vegetable prices in Guangdong have risen by 70 percent in four cities including Guangzhou, the paper said.

Economic losses have reached $1.5 billion because of the floods, it said. More than 45,000 houses collapsed and 140,000 had been damaged.