Millions at risk from lake threatening to overflow in China

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The Independent Online

Fast-rising waters in a huge lake in southern China have swollen above flood warning marks and now threaten to engulf millions of people.

Fast-rising waters in a huge lake in southern China have swollen above flood warning marks and now threaten to engulf millions of people.

Water levels at Dongting, China's second biggest freshwater lake and a giant overflow for the flood-prone Yangtze river, had risen more than 5ft (1.5 metres) above the 105ft warning mark in two days, state television said yesterday, and were likely to rise further.

"A flood wave on the Yangtze river will enter Hunan [province] within the coming days," it said. "Local people are preparing for a water level of 35 metres [115ft]."

The lake hit its highest recorded level of 118ft in 1998 when some of China's worst floods in decades killed 4,000 people, many in the south.

The tropical storm Vongfong was expected to dump torrential rain on parts of Hunan and to swell the Xiangjiang river – one of four feeding into Dongting lake – well beyond danger levels last night, a provincial official in Hunan said. "Vongfong will affect the Xiangjiang river, so it will affect the Dongting lake system," he said. The China Daily newspaper said the lake could burst its banks, unleashing the worst floods this year.

Thousands of people had been mobilised to reinforce embankments around the lake, which shield more than 10 million people and 667,000 hectares (1.6 million acres) of fertile farmland, the daily said.

The television news said the lake had hit warning levels along some 900km (560 miles) of embankments.

China's summer floods, which began early this year, have killed more than 900 people, and government officials have said the eventual death toll could be higher than in 1998.

Some people in Yueyang, a main city on the banks of Dongting lake, still appeared sanguine. The rain had stopped for the moment, a hotel worker said.

"The water is slightly higher than in previous years, but no one is talking about floods. The authorities take measures every year," she said.

Floods and landslides in the south-western province of Yunnan this month had killed 231 people and caused 3.6bn yuan (£285m) of damage, the semi- official China News Service said on its website yesterday

Deluges that had struck the eastern province of Jiangsu since last month helped to unleash a landslide on Monday that cut traffic on a railway line linking the capital, Beijing, with Hong Kong, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Few provinces have escaped the wrath of the summer rains. Other recent victims include Zhejiang, where 21 people were killed and eight reported missing after mountain torrents swept through dozens of villages this month. More than 4,210 homes and 6,400 hectares of farmland were destroyed.