State of emergency declared in flood-menaced China province

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 21 Aug 2002
CHANGSHA, China, Aug 21 (AFP) - A state of emergency was declared Wednesday in China's flood-menaced central province of Hunan, where millions were under threat from water levels approaching those last seen during disastrous floods in 1998, officials said.

"As of today, the entire province is under a state of emergency due to the floods," said a Hunan provincial government official in the provincial capital of Changsha, who gave his name as Xie.

People were already being evacuated from near Dongting Lake, which acts as a catchment for the historically flood-prone Yangtze River, according to the International Red Cross in Beijing.

"(Officials) are very worried about the situation. The state of emergency means more workers will be mobilised, and some people will be moved from around the lake," said Red Cross spokeswoman France Hurtubise.

Dongting and sections of the Yangtze last overflowed in 1998, when more than 4,100 people were killed nationwide, and there are fears that this summer -- which has already seen about 900 deaths -- could prove equally devastating.

In the wake of the 1998 disaster, China's worst floods for more than 40 years, authorities ordered a massive programme of anti-flood reinforcements around Dongting and the Yangtze.

The coming days are likely to test these to their limits. The tail end of tropical storm Vongfong has brought heavy rain to the region, although this has now abated, and officials said water levels in Dongting were rising fast.

Hunan has already been badly affected by flooding this month, with 108 people killed and 38 million affected, according to provincial officials.

At the traditional danger spot of Chenglingji, where the Yangtze exits the lake, waters were almost two metres (6.5 feet) above danger marks Wednesday morning, an anti-flooding official in nearby Yueyang told AFP.

"The level of the lake will continue to rise 50 centimetres (1.6 feet) a day in the coming days," the official said.

Levels were already just one metre (3.3 feet) below those seen in 1998, he said, although adding that matters would improve now rain had eased off upstream.

Dongting's position means that if it overfills, waters surging down the Yangtze could threaten neighbouring Hubei province and its capital of Wuhan, which sits on the river.

The Xiangjiang River also empties into the lake, meaning rising water levels could hit Changsha, Hunan's capital city and other upstream towns in the densely-populated province of 65 million people.

In total, more than 10 million people and 667,000 hectares (1.67 million acres) of farmland are under threat, the official China Daily newspaper said Tuesday.

"The combination of the arrival of hot air and a tropical storm will cause a water surge which could hit Changsha on the 23rd and 24th of August, directly threatening its people and property," the state China News Service quoted the Hunan Daily as warning.

The military was mobilised Wednesday to help shore up the near-1,000 kilometres (600 miles) of embankments surrounding Dongting and to help relief work.

"All army units must make tackling floods their top priority," read an official order from provincial military commanders posted on several Chinese Internet sites.

But Hunan province's Xie insisted that despite the danger there were some "good signs" that flood-prevention measures were holding up.

"With the experience we gained in 1996 and 1998, and with all that's been done in recent years to bolster dykes and hydraulic equipment, there should not be any major problems," he said.

Floods struck early this summer, killing hundreds in June before abating, but around 250 people have died this month, including many buried alive in massive landslides in southwest China.

Eight people were killed when Vongfong hit the southern province of Guangxi, the China News Service said Wednesday, not specifying how they died.

boc-pw/kma AFP

Copyright (c) 2002 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 08/21/2002 06:59:23

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