Fighting China’s mighty floods

Xinhua news agency

MORE THAN 30,000 soldiers, emergency workers and residents are on guard at dikes near Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei province, as the city on Wednesday braced for flood waters from two swollen rivers.

Flood peaks of the mainstream of the Yangtze River and the Hanjiang River, the Yangtze’s longest tributary, are expected to converge in Wuhan within 24 hours.

“It is very rare for the two rivers’ flood peaks to arrive at Wuhan at the same time,” said Hu Xiaohei, an inspector from Wuhan’s Bureau of Water Resources.

The city has a population of about 9.1 million and is a major transport and economic hub in central China. It stands at the centre of China’s latest battle against floods which have left more than 1,400 people dead or missing this year.

“The city’s ability to control the huge amount of water is certainly being tested,” Hu said.

The level of Hanjiang River, the highest in two decades, rose to 35.39 metres when it passed Xiantao City near Wuhan at midday Wednesday. Workers were on standby as authorities with held an order to open flood gates to divert water from the swollen Hanjiang River to a walled low-lying area covering 600 square kilometres.

The low-lying area, stretching from Xiantao to southeast parts of Wuhan, comprises farmland and fish ponds. It is designed as an emergency reservoir during serious floods.

protect and limit

“We will strive to protect people and limit the losses brought by the flood,” said Jiang Tiebing, director of Wuhan’s water resources bureau. About 5,000 residents in Xiantao and another 25,000 in southeast Wuhan were evacuated overnight.

The water diversion system was last put to use in 2005 when the level of the Hanjiang reached 35 metres.

If the water were not diverted, dikes guarding two of the three major districts in Wuhan and nearby Hanchuan City might be breached, local water resources officials said earlier.

In Hanchuan, closer to Wuhan, tens of thousands of soldiers, armed police and residents were ordered to guard the city’s 161 kilometres of dikes and flood prevention facilities around the clock.

A contingency team of 2,000 experienced emergency workers and 1,000 armed police has been stationed in Hanchuan, ready to fix dike breaches with rocks, sandbags, earth and steel nets.

In Wuhan, the local flood control authority has raised the alert level to the second highest level, triggering the mobilisation of emergency workers and the military. The highest level signals possible closures of schools and factories and the mobilisation of millions of the city’s adult residents to join the flood prevention efforts.

But officials were confident that the worst scenario could be avoided as flood control systems, including the Three Gorges Dam, were working well and no major rains are forecast in the near future.

highest flow

In Yichang City, the Three Gorges Dam experienced the highest water flow of the year — about 56,000 cubic metres per second.

The dam withstood the flow with a discharge rate of 40,000 cubic metres per second, accumulating 16,000 cubic metres of water per second in the reservoir.

After passing the dam, the flood peak is expected to flow through the mainstream of the Yangtze River and reach Wuhan before Thursday.

Rainstorms have lashed a dozen provinces this summer, including Shaanxi, Sichuan, Henan, Jilin, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, triggering floods and landslides.

China’s flood control authorities said that floods had left 928 people dead and 477 missing as of Wednesday.

In Jilin, more than 200 rescue workers have been sent to Kouqian Town to reach 30,000 residents thought to be trapped after a nearby reservoir overflowed.

The local train station was also surrounded by water with over 80 people trapped inside.

Meanwhile, rescuers are still searching for 21 missing people after a massive rain-triggered landslide buried 58 homes in the south-western province of Sichuan on Tuesday.

In Henan, thousands of rescuers searched for survivors Wednesday after a bridge collapsed after floodwater surged down the Yi River over the weekend, killing 44 people with 22 missing.

In Shaanxi, 127 people are reported dead due to floods since July.

Floods have affected a total of 134 million people in 28 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, resulting in direct economic losses of 176.5 billion yuan ($26.04 billion), said the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (SFDH).

A total of 875,000 homes have collapsed, 9.61 million people had been evacuated and 8.76 million hectares of crops were affected by floods nationwide.