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Heavy rains bring misery and dangers to central and southern China

China has raised its disaster alert warning to the highest level after days of torrential rain have forced over half a million people to evacuate their homes in central and southern provinces.

Recent state media reports say 19 people have died and 7 are missing in the flood-hit provinces of Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and Guizhou. This brings the total death toll to more than 100 people in June, with over 60 missing. The Chinese authorities have now issued their highest level 4 alert and troops have been sent to flood-affected areas.

In the eastern Zhejiang province, the floods are being described as the worst in over fifty years. Towns and villages have been inundated as waters have breached dykes. Some families have been forced to live in the upper stories of their houses, relying on government-distributed food-aid packages of instant noodles and bottled water. In many flood-hit villages, there is no electricity and mosquitoes are proving a real problem in certain areas. As the flood waters recede, some people have been returning to their homes in order to protect their belongings. However, forecasters are warning that the coming days will bring more rain and returnees could be placed in fresh danger.

In Hubei province, residents along the Pingdu River fled as a wall of water threatened to burst through a blockage of mud and debris. Such incidents have prompted the Chinese government to order safety checks on dams across the affected regions. China’s Flood Control and Drought Relief agency admitted that small dams in particular were facing major hazard.

According to a recent report sponsored by the World Bank, China ranks second in the world (alongside Taiwan) for countries most exposed to multiple natural hazards such as earthquakes and flooding. The Chinese authorities are therefore generally well prepared and offer a high level of response. Government troops are frequently used to move hundreds and thousands and sometimes millions of people from low-lying or risk-prone areas. Nevertheless, dangers remain from water contaminated by sewage or leaked industrial chemicals, with children in particular at increased risk of suffering from respiratory, skin and eye infections. In 2007, floods in China also led to a rise in snake attacks as thousands of snakes were displaced by floods into neighbouring areas.

Weather forecasters do not expect the rains battering China to ease until the weekend and the state of high alert is expected to remain in place at least till then.

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