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Floods in China kill hundreds, displace millions

09:11 | 28/08/2020

China is struggling with a surge of crippling floods that have killed hundreds of people and displaced millions across the central and southwestern parts of the country.

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floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
The southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing on August 19. Premier Li Keqiang visited the flood-stricken city last week. Photo: AP

Flooding on the Yangtze River peaked again last week, in Sichuan province and the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing, while the Three Gorges Dam, 280 miles downstream, reached its highest level since it began holding water in 2003, according to The New York Times.

floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
Community workers and volunteers delivered food and supplies to people in the Sichuan Province city of Neijiang last week. Photo: AFP

One resident of Chongqing, in a video of the flooding there that circulated on a popular social media platform, said: "The losses have been heavy for many businesses, fighting the pandemic in the first half of the year and flooding in the second half.”

floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
The water of the Yangtze River rises in Chongqing on July 27, 2020. # Costfoto / Barcroft Media / Getty

The floods had already caused at least USD26 billion in economic losses before the week. At a recent briefing in Beijing, Zhou Xuewen, secretary-general of China’s flood control headquarters, said that at least 63 million people had been affected and 54,000 homes destroyed. At least 219 people have died or disappeared, he said.

floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
Residents being evacuated in Meishan in Sichuan Province. Photo: AFP

In Sichuan, a landslide caused by heavy rains killed at least six other people in a village near Ya’an. Another in the same region left five people missing.

Heavy rains are normal in southern China during the summer, but this year’s fell harder and longer than usual, inundating crops and entire communities over the past two months.

floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
The Tuojiang River in Sichuan Province, swollen by heavy rains. Photo: AFP

The heavy rains this year have revived a debate over the Three Gorges Dam, a massive project begun in 1994 that forced the relocation of more than 1 million people, inundated entire communities and badly damaged the surrounding environment.

The flow of water into the dam’s reservoir reached 75 million liters a second, breaking a record of 61 million liters set just last month, according to a statement from the Ministry of Water Resources. Although officials said the dam was in no danger, the water level has approached maximum capacity.

floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
Three Gorges Dam. Photo: Global Times

China’s other great waterway, the Yellow River, has also experienced more flooding. The Ministry of Water Resources said in a statement that in Shaanxi province the river had reached the highest level since 1997. Nearly 700 smaller rivers and tributaries have also flooded, straining older dams and levees.

floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
The Xiaolangdi Reservoir on the Yellow River discharges flood and sand on July 5, 2020, in Luoyang. Photo: VCG via Getty

The floods have threatened some of the country’s most famous landmarks. In Sichuan, floodwaters rose to the base of the Leshan Giant Buddha, a 1,200-year-old sculpture carved out of the mountainside that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

floods in china kill hundreds displace millions
The Leshan Giant Buddha is surrounded by floodwaters following heavy rains in China’s southwestern Sichuan province on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

In Chongqing, the flooding consumed Ciqikou, an ancient riverside trading port near where the Jialing River merges with the Yangtze.

Xinhua reported that the waters reached the third stories of some buildings on the steep riverbank. Photographs showed brown water submerging vast stretches of the city’s waterfront, including Hongyadong, an 11-story structure that is a popular tourist destination.

The structure has been closed, and workers have been clearing out the mud that reached its lower levels.

Satellite imagery analysis by artificial intelligence platform MioTech shows how China's worst floods in decades have damaged the country. Intense rainfall and severe flooding has battered China since early June 2020.

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Rosy Huong