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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: May 17, 2010 NO. 20 MAY 20, 2010
On Flood Alert
China braces for a particularly dangerous flood season in the wake of disastrous rainstorms


SATURATED CITY: Nanchang, capital city of Jiangxi Province, becomes waterlogged on May 8 after continuous rain for days (ZHOU KE) 

A series of heavy storms since early May led to severe flooding and landslides in south and southwest China, causing heavy casualties and economic losses. Severe convective weather such as downpours, gusts, hail and thunderstorms attacked these areas over a week from May 5.

The rainstorms left 86 people dead and 16 missing by May 12. About 7.9 million people have been affected by the rainstorms and direct economic losses totaled close to 5.9 billion yuan ($868 million), the Ministry of Civil Affairs said. The rainstorms also damaged 399,000 hectares of crops, in addition to 137,000 houses. More than 275,000 people in Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Chongqing Municipality have been relocated.

Two months ago, many of the affected areas were gripped by once-in-a-century drought, which was alleviated by rainfall toward the end of March.

The Office of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said on May 10 that since the beginning of this year, floods caused by rainstorms, melting ice and snow had affected 10.39 million people in 13 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions and 673,600 hectares of farmland, killed 94 people and caused direct economic losses of 7.36 billion yuan ($1.08 billion), Xinhua News Agency reported. The headquarters also said the main causes of casualties during the floods were mudslides, landslides and collapsed buildings.

As a result of serious urban water inundation in Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong, more than 13,000 vehicles in the province were submerged by water, which caused 170 million yuan ($25 million) in insurance losses, estimated the China Insurance Regulatory Commission Guangdong Bureau.

Wang Shifu, a professor of city planning at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, defended the city government against public criticism of ineffective drainage in the Global Times.

"The government should improve the drainage system, for sure. But I cannot put all the blame on authorities. I have never seen such a big rainstorm in at least 20 years. So it takes time to drain all the water, even with a great drainage system," he said.

In Jiangxi, one of the worst-ravaged provinces, 273,800 people were affected by long-lasting downpours starting from May 5, which caused direct economic losses of 485 million yuan ($71.3 million), the local government said on May 9. During 41 hours between 3 p.m. May 5 and 8 a.m. May 7, more than 200 mm of rainfall was recorded in four counties in Jiangxi.

The National Disaster Reduction Commission and Ministry of Civil Affairs activated emergency response plans to cope with floods in various provinces from May 5. In accordance with the plan, the committee and the ministry sent disaster relief working teams to different flooded areas in Hunan, Chongqing and Guangdong to guide relief work.

Wetter than usual

Sun Jun, a chief forecaster with the National Meteorological Center of the China Meteorological Administration, told Xinhua that "south China hasn't officially entered its flood season, which is between June and August, with stronger rainfall yet to come."

Xinhua quoted a forecast report on China's flood season this year from the China Meteorological Administration, saying weather conditions in the country, such as temperature and precipitation, have been visibly abnormal this year, and it is possible that China will experience meteorological disasters, secondary disasters and extreme weather conditions. The same forecast report predicted the Yangtze River Basin, Huaihe River Basin and Yellow River Basin would have greater-than-normal precipitation and some areas could be struck by torrential rains and floods this year.

At a national conference on May 6, Chen Lei, Minister of Water Resources and Deputy Director of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, said above-average rainfall predicted for the flood season this year could severely threaten China's 85,000 reservoirs, particularly the dilapidated ones.

This year greater rainfall than normal is expected in a greater number of places such as the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Huaihe River Basin and the southern parts of North China, Chen said.

More tropical cyclones were likely to hit China this year and bring more rainfall to regions north of the Yangtze River.

Governments at various levels must consolidate reservoirs before the flood season and formulate practical emergency response plans for rundown reservoirs, Chen said.

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