Deaths in China's Widespread Floods Doubles

News and Press Release
Originally published
By ELAINE KURTENBACH Associated Press Writer

BEIJING (AP) - The death toll from floods that submerged parts of central and southern China has doubled to at least 1,522, the government said today. Relief groups warned that as the waters recede, diseases will claim more victims.

Seasonal rains that began in late June have soaked nine provinces and regions. In the past week, the official death toll in central Hubei province more than quadrupled to 395 people, the Civil Affairs Ministry said today.

In southern Guangxi, flooding has killed 319 people; in Hunan, 286 were reported dead, it said. Many who had returned to their homes in Guangxi as waters receded were forced to flee again by new downpours, said Geoff Prescott of the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

"The whole area has been laid waste," he said. "Of 21 hospitals in the area, only three are functioning."

Relief groups warned of more deaths from diseases. Many communities have no fresh water, their wells contaminated by human waste and the corpses of drowned animals.

Relief workers rushed to distribute chlorine for drinking water. In some areas, they were spraying buildings with concentrated chlorine solutions to reduce the risk of disease, Prescott said.

Flooding along major tributaries of the Yangtze River and Dongting Lake, China's largest fresh water lake, swamped 39 counties and cities in Hunan, some under 20 feet of water, the Civil Affairs Ministry said. Some 3.3 million people were stranded and 47,203 injured.

In Hunan and neighboring Hubei, 6 million soldiers and civilians were posted along the Yangtze, China's longest river, to fortify dikes and flood walls.

Although water levels have dropped this week, the Yangtze is six feet above the danger level in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, the official newspaper China Daily reported.

"In Wuhan, there is great concern that the river and lake water could threaten the entire city," Prescott said.

A severe weekend storm near Chongqing, upriver from Hubei in Sichuan province, leveled 4,000 buildings, killing 12 people and leaving 63 missing, the Xinmin Evening News reported today.

The Yangtze and its tributaries flow through some of China's best and most densely populated farmland. Intensive cultivation, inadequate watershed management and uncontrolled industrial growth made summer flooding an annual catastrophe.

China's Red Cross has appealed for $3.6 million in aid. The Red Cross has sent 1,500 medical teams to flooded areas.

The United States today sent a flight of relief supplies - plastic sheeting, blankets and water canisters - to eastern Anhui province. Vast areas of Anhui, including some entire villages, remain underwater, Prescott said.

The Agriculture Ministry believes the floods won't greatly affect the summer harvest, now mostly completed. But they are delaying planting by five to seven days, leaving the fall crop more susceptible to frost and cold winds, Farmers' Daily reported.

At least 2.5 million acres of crops have been destroyed by official count, and economic losses surpass $11 billion.