Fewer than 4,000 people have died in this season's devastating floods, according to officials who say higher estimates are 'outrageous'. 'To my knowledge, it will not be double the figure of 2,000 released on August 6,' Zhou Wenzhi, Vice-Minister of Water Resources, said yesterday. He and other officials attacked as 'outrageous and absurd' death tolls published in some newspapers. A national toll is expected to be announced this week. Hubei deputy party chief Yang Yongliang vehemently denied reports that 1,000 people died when a dyke collapsed at Jiayu, flooding a county with a population of 50,000. Mr Yang said 44 people had died there, including 18 PLA soldiers. This was double the number stated in a prior official account. So far, the bodies of 18 flood victims had been recovered, and 80,000 people had been evacuated. Officials also dismissed reports of mass deaths when a dyke collapsed this month flooding part of Jiujiang city, Jiangxi province, maintaining that no one died. 'The scale of the casualties is very, very low given the scale of the flooding and a population of 1.2 billion,' Mr Zhou said. The economic cost of the floods is still being assessed. However, in Hubei province, one of the worst affected areas, direct economic losses have been put at 38.4 billion yuan (HK$35.9 billion). Damage has been caused to 2.54 million hectares of crops, and nearly 10,000 enterprises have been forced to stop production. Beijing has been keen to play down the likelihood that the floods will cause grain shortages and push up prices. 'China has huge reserves of grain, which will not cause price hikes,' said Zhao Qizheng of the State Council. Officials were reluctant to predict when the floods would end. Mr Zhou warned that they could last until December if there were typhoons. Even without further rain, the middle and lower parts of the Yangtze could still be grappling with floodwaters for a further 20 days. About eight million civilians are fighting the floods along the Yangtze and in Heilongjiang. Major-General Ma Shukuan said 175,000 soldiers were taking part in the largest deployment in the Yangtze River basin since 1949.