"Wartime mode" kicks off in China's Jiangxi province to face flood catastrophe

Jiangxi has switched on "wartime mode" and raised the emergency response for flood control and disaster relief to the highest level. 
July 13, 2020 | 12:31
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Kicking off "wartime mode"

According to Global Times, in light of the alarming water levels exceeding that of 1998 in China's largest fresh water lake located alongside the Yangtze River, and with the upcoming rains expected to fall in the middle and lower reaches of the river, China raised its national flood response level on Sunday to its second highest, with the public keeping a close watch on whether the Three Gorges Project can withhold the floods and if the country will suffer the same fate it did 22 years ago.

Disaster-relief experts pointed out that economic growth has made the country more vulnerable to floods and prone to bigger losses, but the Three Gorges Project has made the river basin "much safer." Experts were also optimistic about the progress made in logistics, resources coordination and technology that can help the country overcome a major disaster with minimal impact.

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Authorities in Jiangsu province in the Yangtze Delta issued orange flood alerts on Saturday - the second-highest - and forecast huge, long-lasting volumes of water would pour from the river. (Reuters file photo)

At midnight Saturday, the water surface level at a hydrometric station at Poyang Lake in East China's Jiangxi Province, exceeded the 22.52 meter red mark of the 1998 floods. The 1998 disaster claimed some 4,150 lives and caused 160 billion yuan ($22.9 billion) in economic damages, Reuters reported.

Jiangxi has entered "wartime mode" and raised its emergency response for flood control and disaster relief to the highest level.

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Officers and soldiers from the Chinese People's Armed Police help strengthen a dyke at Mount Shahu in the city of Lushan, East China's Jiangxi Province, in the early morning of Sunday. China's Ministry of Water Resources on Sunday raised the emergency response for flood control to Level II, the second highest in its response system, as heavy downpours continued to lash vast stretches of the country. Photo: VCG

Jiangxi province in southern China issued its highest flood warning on Saturday, predicting a big overflow from a lake on the Yangtze River as torrential rain continues to batter much of the country, Hindustan Times also reported.

The Jiangxi government raised its flood-control response level to I from II, the People’s Daily said, the top level on China’s four-tier scale, signalling disasters such as dam collapses or extraordinary floods simultaneously in several rivers.

Provincial authorities expect severe regional flooding in Poyang, China’s largest freshwater lake which connects to the Yangtze, state television said.

The water level in the lake, rising at an unprecedented pace, was 2.3 metres (8 feet), exceeding the alert level, CCTV said in a report around noon (0200 GMT).

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People put sand bags on dykes overnight to prepare for the rising floodwater in Poyang county, East China's Jiangxi Province on Sunday. Photo: Courtesy of Wang Zhonghua

The government of the province’s Jiangzhou county, an isolated island on Asia’s longest river, issued a call on social media for everyone from the town aged 18 to 60 to return and help fight the flood, citing a severe lack of hands to reinforce dams.

With downpours continuing to wreak havoc across vast swaths of China, several other cities along the Yangtze have declared highest-level flood warnings, as incessant rain triggers landslides and inundates roads and farmland, with parts of the river threatening to burst its banks.

China’s national observatory on Saturday renewed its yellow alert for rainstorms, warning of heavy of weekend rain in places including Sichuan and Chongqing in the southwest, the central province of Hubei and Hunan province in the south.

Test for Three Gorges Project

For the Yangtze River, the highest amount of rainfall and flood peaks usually occur in late July and early August, and the already alarming situation has prompted people to ask, will the floods of 1998 repeat again?

Analysts reassured the public that with the Three Gorges Project, which went into operation in 2003 and plays a critical role in mediating the water, a disaster on the scale of 1998 is unlikely to take place along the mainstream.

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Two spillways of the Three Gorges dam released floods on June 29. Photo: Xinhua.

Zhang Boting, a senior analyst at the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, told the Global Times on Sunday that with the Three Gorges Project, the mainstream water level could remain low by holding the water in the upper reaches of the Three Gorges Reservoir, with Poyang Lake and other tributaries being able to discharge water into the Yangtze's mainstream.

The Yangtze's reaches are much safer than they were in 1998, Zhang said.

Amid the flood pressure in the middle and lower reaches, the Changjiang (Yangtze River) Water Resources Commission on Saturday reduced outflow from the Three Gorges Reservoir to 19,000 cubic meters per second. The amount will be adjusted in line with the upcoming rainfall.

The Three Gorges Reservoir reduced its water level in early June to 145 meters, 30 meters below its high water level to hold the upcoming floodwater.

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Heavy rainfall in recent days has caused severe flooding for 26 Chinese provinces. Photo: Weibo

Gao Jianguo, a member of the National Disaster Reduction Committee under the Ministry of Emergency Management, warned that despite the key role the Three Gorges Project could play in reducing mainstream flood control pressure, the lower reaches still face major challenges from regional rainfall that could bring about a smaller scale of floods and inundation.

Another concern is the typhoon season, which usually arrives in August and may potentially overlap with the Yangtze's flood season, threatening the lower reaches and the delta region.

In comparison to 1998, the high scale of development along the river means floods, water logging and inundation on the same scale will cause perhaps 10 times more economic losses. But technologies and innovative progress regarding the emergency response system also enhanced capabilities in handling floods and minimizing such impacts, analysts said.

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Rescuers work in Shexian County battered by flood in east China's Anhui Province, on July 7, 2020. Torrential rain caused severe flooding in the county. (Photo by Shi Yalei/Xinhua)

Gao told the Global Times on Sunday that the country is now better prepared for floods, with more accurate monitoring and prediction of hydrologic and meteorological data. Progress in logistics and resources coordination also increased the capability of getting ready for a trans-regional emergency.

China now also has more professional machines to conduct bank consolidation, evacuation and reconstruction work after floods, Gao said.

The Global Times learned from the frontline of the flood battle in Jiangxi that drones are now deployed to monitor floods and other geological occurrences in affected areas and broadcast live images to better conduct targeted rescue and relief work.

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An aerial view shows buildings and farmlands partially submerged in floodwaters following heavy rainfall in Duchang county, Jiangxi province, China. The province in southern China issued its highest flood warning on Saturday, predicting a big overflow from a lake on the Yangtze River as torrential rain continues to batter much of the country, state media said. - China Daily/Asian News Network

A resident from Nanlin village in Poyang told the Global Times on Sunday that in 1998, most people lived in bungalows which were easily inundated. But now most families have built two- to three-story houses and can wait for rescue if trapped by a sudden flood.

The development in communication infrastructure also saves time and costs in information sharing, giving more time for people to evacuate and get prepared, said the resident.

The extraordinary rainfall across the Yangtze basin this year is not only a test for the Three Gorges Project, but also a test for the country's disaster response mechanisms as a whole, analysts said.

The No.1 Yangtze flood peak formed on July 2 and the Three Gorges Reservoir withheld it smoothly. As the river usually has seven to eight numbered flood peaks (flood of a certain scale) each year between late July and early August, nature's biggest challenge has not arrived yet, Gao said.

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