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Disasters claim 439 lives, damages farmland
By Wang Ying (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-28 01:20

Disaster alarms have been growing as the country battles a rare mixture of intense floods and pervasive drought.

Chinese soldiers fight against rising floodwaters as they try to put up makeshift barriers across a flooded road in Yinjiang county, southwest China's Yunnan province. The death toll from summer floods and rains in China has risen to 439, with more than 20,000 people injured and massive loss of property and farmland. [newsphoto]

Rare disasters which historically happened once every century or every several decades have plagued China this year, said officials with the Ministry of Civil Affairs yesterday.

Although the current wave of floods has not led to river basin catastrophes along the country's major rivers such as the Huaihe and Yangtze rivers, they have caused enormous losses, said Wang Zhenyao, director of the ministry's Disaster and Social Relief Department.

Floods have claimed the lives of 439 people and injured more than 21,600 so far this year, according to statistics released by the ministry yesterday.

Landslides caused by floods have collapsed 275,000 houses and damaged more than 1 million houses, forcing 1.46 million people to flee their homes, the statistics showed.

More than 5.16 million hectares of farmland has been ruined by floods, mostly in Hunan, Henan and Hubei provinces in Central China and Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in South China.

"The country has witnessed extreme weather recently in big cities, such as Beijing's unprecedented rainstorm earlier this month, which paralyzed local transportation," Wang said.

"The rainstorm in Shanghai on July 12 can be said to be a very rare disaster which happens only once a century," he said. The rainstorm claimed seven lives.

While some areas are being plagued by floods, some regions have been scorched by high temperatures and drought.

Severe drought has plagued Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang provinces in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in North China since the spring. Rain did not begin to fall until July, several months later than normal, meteorologists said.

Continuous drought and heat have nearly depleted water resources in the southern city of Shenzhen, which neighbours Hong Kong.

The reservoirs have less than one-third of their total capacity, and the water can last for only a month with normal water supply, local officials said.

Sizzling weather has dominated major cities in East China and Southwest China this week.

The cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou in the east and Chongqing and Chengdu in the southwest are expected to see successive hot days with temperatures above 38 C this week, meteorologists warn.

To help ease the disasters, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has earmarked more than 69 million yuan (US$8.3 million) as a disaster relief fund.

More than 3,600 tents were sent to disaster sites to provide temporary shelter to the victims.

A joint disaster prevention system has been formed by several ministries and government departments including the Ministry of Land and Resources, the Ministry of Water Resources and China Meteorological Administration.

"Disasters like torrential rain, typhoons, mountain torrents, and storm tides are likely to occur throughout China at any moment in the days ahead since the entire country is now in its major flood season," the Beijing-based State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters warned last week.

The headquarters urged local meteorological departments to issue timely forecasts for key devastating calamities for decision-makers to plan measures.

The headquarters also urged local authorities to do their best to deal with emergency issues of flood control, mass evacuation or relocation of stranded people and epidemic prevention.

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