50,000 flee Chinese flooding

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The Independent Online
THE VILLAGES of Paizhou and Hezhen were flooded out when a dyke collapsed in Jiayu County at the weekend, but casualty figures still remained uncertain yesterday. Local residents contacted by telephone said that up to 50,000 people from the stricken area had been moved to nearby villages, and the main provincial newspaper, the Hubei Daily, reported that 19 soldiers were missing. Many people were believed to have been on the dyke when it gave way.

Mr Dou, at the Jiayu department store in the county town said: "We all heard Paizhou and Hezhen were flooded, but we don't know about casualties. Jiayu town itself should be safe. There are many people on the dykes and a lots of measures have been taken. But we are still under great pressure because the water level is still high. Every work unit has assigned people to watch closely over the water. Everyone in the town has their task to do." Jiayu is about 60km south of Wuhan city.

The dyke which collapsed was not one of those holding back the swollen river Yangtze, according to locals. It was on the other side of the villages, containing a lake or tributary river. When it breached, a wall of water rushed towards the Yangtze but was then trapped by the main river embankment. Ms Zhang, a local official, said: "The Paizhou area is now holding about 200 million cubic metres of water." The city of Wuhan had the benefit, with officials claiming that the river level in the industrial city had dropped 20 centimetres as a result of the upstream breach.

Once again last night, the television news ignored Jiayu in its flood reports. But the Yangcheng Evening News claimed that the dyke had sprung a leak a few days earlier. It quoted Major General Dai Yingchong as one of the soldiers who was swept away. "I was sucked down twice by the waves, but struggled back to the surface each time and finally grabbed a poplar tree," he said. "I saw that in the surrounding trees there also were a few other soldiers who had been swept away."

The situation may be clarified today when officials from the state flood control and drought relief headquarters finally hold a press conference on the flood situation. With waters still rising at several danger points, the forecasts for the next few days are mixed. Tropical storm Otto was weakening yesterday after landing in South-east China, but it was bringing yet more rain to flooded regions.

Flooding of the Yangtze is an annual event, but this year the situation has been exacerbated by earlier and heavier summer rains. The North-east of China is now also at risk, and the central government issued a warning for residents there to prepare for sudden, heavy rain.