China fears floods as typhoon hits

Chanthu hits south coast raising concerns of further devastating floods.

china floods
More than 110 million people in 27 provinces have been affected by the flooding in China [AFP]

Southern China has been hit by typhoon Chanthu, the second in less than a week, as the death toll from floods and landslides across the country climbed to nearly 300 this month alone.

Chanthu made landfall in Guangdong province on Thursday, with winds of up to 126 kilometres per hour.

There were no immediate reports of any additional flooding in the south, which is already suffering the worst flooding in 10 years, but “ferocious precipitation” was expected on the island province of Hainan and the Guangxi region, the China meteorological administration said. 

State-run television broadcast images of large waves crashing onto the Guangdong shore and said electricity, telecommunications and water services were cut in some areas.

It warned people in Chanthu’s westward-moving path to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors until the all-clear is given.

Liu Ning, the vice-minister of water resources, warned of more misery to come as the typhoon season gets into gear, saying six to eight major typhoons were expected in the coming months.

At least two dozen flights in and out of Hainan’s Haikou city were cancelled on Thursday, airport officials said.

Guangdong and Guangxi are among the areas already hit by torrential rains and subsequent flooding, which have killed hundreds over the past several weeks and caused scores of rivers and lakes across the region to reach danger levels.

Weeks of torrential rains have left three-quarters of provinces under water [Reuters]

Premier Wen Jiabao, in comments published in Chinese newspapers on Thursday, said the situation was serious and called for greater disaster prevention efforts.

“The country is now at a crucial stage in fighting the floods, with water levels on the Yangtze River, Huai River and Tai Lake surpassing safety limits.

“The situation is very serious as typhoons are coming,” Wen said.

Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Jiangxi province, said while floods are an annual occurence in parts of China, what is particularly unusual about these floods is that heavy rain has hit most of the country.

“The big problem now is that there is a storm brewing down south and when it moves northward it’s going to bring more rainfall,” Chan said.

“This rain keeps coming and coming and coming. When waters recede a little bit more rainfall comes.”

At least 273 people have died as a result of the rains this month, bringing to 701 the number killed so far this year.

Another 347 are missing, the government said on Wednesday.

The civil affairs ministry said three million people have been evacuated.

Last week, typhoon Conson skirted Hainan, killing two people, before heading into Vietnam.

Spreading north

Much of southern and central China has been suffering flooding and landslides after weeks of torrential downpours and the deluge is spreading north, with Liaoyuan city in northeastern Jilin under waters 1m deep on Wednesday, state television reported.

Northeastern Liaoning province was experiencing its heaviest rainfall since 1994, state news agency Xinhua said.

This year’s death toll is the worst since 1998, when the highest water levels in five decades claimed 4,150 lives.

Already, three-quarters of China’s provinces have been plagued by flooding and 25 rivers have seen record-high water levels, officials said.

Flooding, particularly along the Yangtze river basin, has overwhelmed reservoirs, swamped towns and cities, destroyed farms, and caused landslides that have smothered communities, including toppling 645,000 houses.

The government estimates that the rains have caused direct economic damage of $21bn.

Qinghui Gu from the International Federation of the Red Cross in Hubei province, told Al Jazeera they were concerned about the availability of food, water and shelter for the next few months.

“There are over 300,000 people being evacuated from this area alone,” Gu said.

“A lot of farmland has been flooded and completely destroyed. More rain is expected and a lot of small reservoirs have burst.”

Better prepared

However, Ning said China was far better prepared than in 1998 and the overall water volume was not as high this time, although some rivers had risen above the peak of that year.

Rescue teams have been struggling to help those affected by the floods [AFP]

Since 1998, dykes have been improved and the massive Three Gorges dam completed.

Only a few dykes have failed this year, unlike in 1998 when thousands did, vice-minister Liu told a news conference.

But he warned that since 60 to 80 per cent of the annual rainfall occurs between June and August, the authorities should ramp up preparations and “be prepared to prevent and combat potential disasters”.

The Three Gorges dam was given the go-ahead by the government in 1992, against unusually visible and vocal domestic opposition – with environmentalists warning the reservoir could turn into a cesspool of raw sewage and industrial chemicals trapped behind the dam.

The $50bn project has already displaced millions as their homes were covered by the damming of the river. Millions more are expected to have to move within the next decade.

The government justified its decision to push ahead by citing massive clean power generation and flood control.

The Three Gorges Dam faced its highest levels ever this week and water breached the 2km long and 200m high dam.

But Liu said although water levels in the upper stretches of the Yangtze had surpassed 1998 marks, “the flood situation is still not as severe because the Three Gorges Dam has played a key role in preventing floods along the river this year”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies