Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

China steps up flood-prevention efforts in east

AFP , BEIJING

Authorities were redoubling efforts to fight floods yesterday in central and eastern China, despite dropping water levels, with Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) urging officials to put residents' safety first.

Water levels on the swollen Huai River were beginning to fall, state television station said yesterday, but warned they were still high.

The river, which has seen serious flooding due to incessant rain since mid-June, still has about 20 billion cubic meters of water in its upper reaches that must flow into Hongze Lake, the Xinhua news agency said.

But it would take five Hongze Lakes to hold that amount of water, so flood fighters are working feverishly to try to divert the waters to other reservoirs as well as to villages in the flood plain, the agency said.

The government reported on Friday there had been 569 deaths due to flooding in China so far this year and some 2.29 million people had been evacuated from disaster areas.

Rains which have caused flooding in central, eastern and southern China since mid-May have already destroyed more than 505,000 homes and damaged another 1.33 million. Economic losses nationwide are estimated at some 39.87 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion), the Ministry of Civil Affairs report said.

The focus is still on the Huai River valley, which includes the provinces of Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu, where water levels have reached their highest in 10 years.

The government has evacuated farming communities and blown up dykes in an attempt reduce the amount of water in the swelling river.

During an inspection tour of the area over the weekend, Wen visited evacuees in tent cities along the river and watched the swollen brown river surging downstream.

The People's Daily reported yesterday that Wen urged officials to "put people's safety and benefits as top priority," fully use of the armed police unit, "not be afraid of fatigue" and "pay great attention to flood prevention work."

In one of the worst affected provinces, Anhui, it has stopped raining, but the water level was still high, said an official at the provincial anti-flood office, who gave his surname as Wang.

"We still need people to monitor the weak dykes. In the past two days, the main work is to help the victims by distributing food and daily necessities to them," he told reporters.

At least 780,000 people had been evacuated from low areas along the river in Anhui province alone, as the government mobilized thousands of troops and hundreds of thousands of citizens to help in evacuation and flood prevention.

As of Saturday, 20 sections of dykes along the Huai river had been breached and nine water diversion areas along the river's course inundated in an effort to reduce the level on the swelling river, Xinhua said.

In the lower reaches, where the river flows into Hongze Lake in Jiangsu province, workers were feverishly building up dykes.

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