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Storms brings more woe to China

Last week, typhoon Conson skirted southern China and hit the island of Hainan with wind speeds of 126 km/h (78 mph), killing two people. This week, the region is preparing for its second battering. The tropical storm Chanthu is expected to hit southern China on Thursday, when the government is advising people to stay indoors.

So far, 701 people have died in China since the start of the year as a result of all the torrential rains and storms. And according to the government, another 347 are missing.

The scale of the flooding has raised fears that China could face another disaster similar to the one which happened in 1998, when the Yangtze River flooded, killing more than 4,000 people.

The government is hopeful this won’t happen, since water levels in the middle and downstream areas of the Yangtze are one metre lower compared to 1998. Many improvements have been made to dikes in the intervening years and the massive Three Gorges dam has also been completed.

The building of the dam, which cost 27.2 billion dollars, was hugely controversial, since environmentalists were concerned about the reservoir becoming a trap for sewage and industrial chemicals. And to complete the project, 1.4 million people in the Hubei province were relocated.

But as well as providing clean energy, the Chinese government was convinced the dam could help control the dangerous floods in the region downstream, which have caused so much damage in the past. Certainly, the rainfall this month is testing the dam’s capabilities. So far, the water in the reservoir is 20 metres below the maximum capacity and though the flow through the dam has reached the fastest ever recorded, at 70,000 cubic metres per second, the dam is containing the kind of discharge which would spell disaster for the downstream areas.

Upstream, the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Shannxi are still being hit hard by torrential rain and landslides, which have killed 37 people and left 100 missing in recent days. In Sichuan, water from the Qu river, which flows into the Yangtze, has submerged the town of Guang’an, which has seen its worst flooding since 1847. Teams of Chinese soldiers have been on hand in rescue boats to ferry people away from their submerged buildings.

Overall this month, it is estimated that more than 100,000 homes in China have been damaged or destroyed and 13 million people forced into temporary accommodation. Millions of Chinese are waiting for this rainy season to end, so that they can start the huge clear-up and rebuild their lives.

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