Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Southern China: 35 die in severe flooding. High alert for possible El Niño disasters

China would be able to withstand a flood disaster as overwhelming as that in 1998, memories of which have been aroused as rainstorms and floods continued to rage in southern China, experts said.

As rainstorms, floods and landslides continue to affect large swaths of southern China, raising the prospect of the worst flood damage in almost two decades, experts say that the country's flood control efforts mean it is in good shape to withstand any disaster.

Floods, landslides and mudflows have left 35 people dead, 24 missing and 388,000 displaced in southern China since heavy rain began Saturday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) said Tuesday.

"Earlier in this year's flood season, there was significantly more rainfall in Hunan Province compared with the same period in previous years, both in the frequency and the amount of precipitation," an official from the flood control authorities of Hunan Province, surnamed Chen, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

This year's stronger short-term heavy rainfall also contributed to the disasters in some areas, Chen added.

By 9 am Tuesday, about 7.68 million people in 10 provinces, including East China's Zhejiang Province, Central China's Hubei Province and Southwest China's Sichuan Province, had been affected by the disasters, according to a report on the MCA's official website.

More than 5,600 houses collapsed, another 31,000 were damaged to different degrees and 34,100 hectares of crops were destroyed. Direct economic losses from the floods reached 6.29 billion yuan ($956 million), the MCA said.

Days of torrential rain resulted in a river near a coal mine in Southwest China's Guizhou Province breaking its banks on Sunday night, leaving eight miners who were working underground in a shaft missing, the State Administration of Work Safety said Tuesday.

Dam defenses

Almost two decades ago in the summer of 1998, the Yangtze River valley, among others, saw catastrophic floods after extremely high levels of rainfall. More than 3,000 people died, 6.85 million houses collapsed and caused 166 billion yuan in damage, Xinhua reported. Since then, the country made many efforts to ensure a similar scale disaster would not happen.

In early June, the Three Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River dropped its water level to 145 meters above sea level, a safe level to cope with floods to allow a storage capacity of 20 billion cubic meters for prospective floods, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"The principal purpose of building the Three Gorges Dam at a sacrifice of great environmental and social costs was to prevent and control floods," Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Global Times.

Construction started on the Three Gorges Dam in 1994, near Yichang in Central China's Hubei Province. In 2010, the dam successfully reached its water storage target of 175 meters above sea level.

The dam helps the Yangtze withstand a once-in-a-century flood while its main body would not be destroyed even in a once-in-10,000-years flood, said Chen Guiya, an official with the Changjiang Water Resources Commission of the Ministry of Water Resources, Xinhua reported Thursday.

At 8 am on Tuesday, the dam's inflows reached a new high this year of 30,000 cubic meters per second, according to the website of the China Three Gorges Corporation.

Water control projects built in recent years could help limit the influence of a flood disaster similar to the one in 1998, Lin Erda, Director of the Research Center of Agriculture and Climate Change, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the Global Times.

El Niño

"China's Yangtze River and Pearl River basins will experience heavier rainfall in El Niño years," Lin said.

From last year to the first half of this, an El Nino event has been affecting global weather patterns as water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean rose abnormally.

The El Nino of 1998 was considered one of the worst, and caused extreme weather phenomena across the globe.

In Central China's Hunan Province, rain and floods on Monday caused the water to overflow river banks and ruin part of an ancient town named Liye, where a large number of bamboo slips chronicling China's Qin Dynasty were excavated. Over 20,000 people, including 5,000 tourists, were evacuated, Xinhua reported.
[Xinhua contributed to this story]
[By Ding Xuezhen Source:Global Times]

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