Casualties rise as waters surge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2012, 12:00am


Heavy rains continued to batter northern and southwestern parts of the country yesterday, with dozens reported dead or missing in Hebei , while authorities were expecting the massive Three Gorges Dam to receive its biggest inflow of water in two years by about 8pm tonight.

Upstream on the Yangtze River, the city of Luzhou , Sichuan , was reeling from what state media and residents said was the worst flood in at least half a century. Almost the entire downtown area of the city, with more than four million residents, was inundated in water as deep as five metres, and many were still trapped without access to running water, electricity or natural gas.

Some of those reached by phone, however said they had received timely notification of the storm from the city government, and that paramilitary troops were providing much-needed support.

'I think they have done a better job than in Beijing,' the owner of Hengli Furniture said, referring to accusations of insufficient warning by officials in the capital ahead of severe flooding at the weekend.

'At about 9 last night [Sunday], some government officials knocked on our door, telling us there would be a huge flood and urging us to evacuate,' she said, declining to be named. 'But I decided to stay because I could not leave without my furniture.'

Fortunately, the water level in the city began to recede by late yesterday afternoon. People on the higher, northern bank of the river fared better. A kindergarten teacher there said the school remained open for children in the neighbourhood yesterday, as residents had not been evacuated.

'I am more than 60 years old, and I have never seen a bigger flood,' she said, declining to be named. 'Almost the entire city, especially the southern part, was flooded. It is a miracle that I have not heard of any deaths.'

No Luzhou government officials could be reached for comment last night, and there were no reports of deaths or injuries. A city official told Xinhua that it was the biggest flood in about 50 years.

The waters are expected to move downstream and flood the southwestern municipality of Chongqing today. A waitress at a restaurant there on the southern bank of the Yangtze said by phone that local officials had warned of impending floods, and all businesses near the bank had been ordered to close.

'We are actually on high ground. If we have to evacuate, it means the flood will probably be very serious,' she said, declining to be named.

Authorities at the Three Gorges Dam, located downstream from Chongqing, were bracing for the impact, but there was little that could be done to prepare. Xinhua reported that the world's biggest hydropower project still had hundreds of boats - carrying more than 1,000 crewmen - waiting to pass through the dam's gates yesterday, adding that many crewmen were becoming restless and panicky, and that the government had sent officials round in an attempt to calm them down.

The state news agency also cited flood officials as saying that they expected the water inflow to reach an estimated 70,000 cubic metres a second tonight, similar to the level seen in 2010.

Yunnan province has also been hit hard. After suffering a long and severe drought, the province was deluged in recent days, triggering mudslides and killing at least six people, with two still missing, in Zhaotong city, Xinhua reported.

Hebei's death toll was reportedly rising as well. Hit by the same weather system that hit Beijing at the weekend, the province had recorded at least 15 deaths and 19 people missing by yesterday.