Freak storms claim lives from China to eastern Europe

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The Independent Online

Storms wreaked havoc across China and huge swaths of eastern Asia and Europe yesterday, claiming up to 140 lives amid a summer of freak weather around the globe.

Storms wreaked havoc across China and huge swaths of eastern Asia and Europe yesterday, claiming up to 140 lives amid a summer of freak weather around the globe.

Torrential rains in the rice-growing region of southern China triggered landslides and floods, killing 70 people. The floods in Hunan province are the worst since 1998, according to local officials. So far this year around 900 people in China have been killed in floods.

North Korea has reported torrential rains causing casualties and destroying crops in the communist state, already suffering a severe food shortage.

South Korea, where 14 people have died, mobilised troops to battle further downpours after a week of deluges dumped two-fifths of the average annual rainfall on the country. More rain was forecast for today.

And in Russia, rescue workers battled muddy torrents surging through southern resorts after heavy rains and a violent tornado left at least 44 dead and hundreds of holidaymakers stranded yesterday.

Camp sites were devastated and at least 100 houses swept away, in the second wave of fatal flooding to hit southern Russia in two months.

The Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, has been dispatched to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to oversee the rescue and clean-up operations.

The Kremlin's intervention came in the wake of criticism back in June that authorities in the country's southern regions were ill-prepared and responded too slowly to floods that claimed 91 lives.

President Vladimir Putin ordered government departments on Saturday to do more to help the victims of the flooding.

"Although it is summer, relaxation is out of the question," Mr Putin said during a meeting in the Kremlin, as reported by the Interfax news agency. "Help must be extended ... Epidemics must be prevented and people must be supported."

Elsewhere in Europe, flooding and storms are thought to have killed seven people in Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Heavy rains have also brought chaos to Croatia, the Crimea, Austria and Italy.

In the Czech Republic a 19-year-old girl was feared drowned after a raft carrying her and two other people overturned in a swollen river near Rokycany, 90 miles south-west of Prague.

The Czech authorities were also searching for a man whose car was swept away in a river in Kaplice, 105 miles south of the capital.

In south-west Romania, a 62-year-old man and an eight-year-old boy were killed when flood waters swept through their villages, while in Bulgaria, flooding left dozens of villages without electricity. Lightning was also blamed for at least three deaths across Europe.

In Italy, heavy rains raised the sea level around Venice by 90cm above average, sparking fears of flooding.

India is also suffering erratic weather. More than 700 people have died because of floods, disease and landslides, and millions have been left homeless in the east of the country, as well as in Nepal and Bangladesh, in the last month.

Paradoxically, much of the rest of India is suffering the worst drought in a decade. Scientists warn that what happens in India is often a precursor to weather conditions in South-east Asia.

In Vietnam, officials said the worst drought in 27 years in central coastal provinces had ruined thousands of hectares of rice.

In Australia, scientists said El Niño, the global weather phenomenon blamed for a deadly drought in South-east Asia five years ago, had returned and was threatening other countries.

The US is also suffering a drought in 26 states. The worst affected include New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. In a typical year, drought hits around 10 per cent of the country.

Wildfires have scorched more than 4.6 million acres of land, while this summer's wheat harvest has fallen to the lowest levels in nearly 30 years.

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