The Heat Is Online

China flood -- aug., 1998

"China flooding forces evacuation of 500,000 people",The Boston Globe Aug. 8, 1998

By Indira a. R. Lakshmanan, Globe Staff

HONG KONG - In a desperate attempt to contain the worst flooding of the Yangtze River since 1954, Chinese authorities evacuated more than half a million people in central Hubei province while preparing yesterday to blast dikes to dissipate raging waters.

Flooding from torrential rainfall of up to seven times normal levels in central and eastern China this summer has claimed more than 2,000 lives since June, according to official figures. Some nongovernmental groups estimate casualties are even higher.

Despite a series of dikes along the Yangtze, the overflow of the world's third-longest river has affected 28 provinces and cities and 240 million people - one in five Chinese citizens, or a population comparable to that of the United States.

About 14 million people have been left homeless by landslides, mudslides, and toppled buildings, and an estimated 65 million acres of crops - or one-sixth of China's farmland - have been damaged or destroyed, according to Fan Bojun, vice minister of Civil Affairs. Six provinces have been particularly hard hit.

Flooding is an annual occurrence in China that has taken millions of lives over the centuries, especially along the river dubbed ``China's Sorrow,'' because of its flooding.

In Yunnan province, a disaster relief worker with years of experience with war and famine in Somalia and Rwanda said yesterday she was shocked by the extent of the devastation.

``It's just incredible'' to see ``the amount of water. You look down and see just the roofs of buildings. People have put plastic sheeting on top of a five-story building and are living on top of that,'' Montserrat Batllo, China country manager for the international relief group Doctors Without Borders, said of the flooding in Hunan province, where she had been on Wednesday.

Thousands of people are living in tents atop narrow dikes in scorching daytime heat, some for as long as 50 days without access to safe drinking water or sewage facilities, she said. Cases of dysentery, respiratory infections, and eye disease are rising. In Zaotong, Yunnan province, two hospital buildings have been swept away, leaving no facilities for dressing, sterilization, or laundry, she said.

``Conditions are appalling,'' said Alyson Froud, Doctors Without Borders' medical coordinator in Hunan province. ``We need to get these people off the dikes.''

The problem is there is nowhere for them to go. Meanwhile, people are contaminating the river and groundwater with feces, and floods have washed away the harvest for the coming months.

In Wuhan province, the river was 6 inches below the highest sandbags today, according to Agence France-Presse.

China's longest flood season on record has caused some $5 billion in damage and is expected to shave between half a percent and 1 percent off China's gross domestic product this year, government officials said. The fertile Yangtze River basin supports 40 percent of the nation's agricultural and industrial output and is home to one third of its people.

Worst-hit regions are now accessible only by boat, and transport in much of central China is at a virtual standstill, authorities said. The Yangtze snakes 3,900 miles from Qinghai province in far western China to the eastern port of Shanghai.

Hubei authorities yesterday imposed a 6:30 p.m. curfew in Gongan county, some 120 miles west of the provincial capital of Wuhan, as they awaited orders to explode dikes to divert floodwaters from the city of several million. Also yesterday in central Jiangxi province, residents were urged to evacuate Jiujiang city after flooding breached a major dike and submerged parts of the city under 6 1/2 feet of water, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Water levels in the Jingjiang section of the Yangtze, the most treacherous and winding section of the river, on Thursday surpassed levels recorded in 1954, when flooding killed 30,000. Far fewer people have perished in the current disaster, because of stronger dikes, improved transport and rescue facilities, and better early-warning systems.

``Trucks, railways, helicopters were hardly available in rural China in 1954. ... And from our point of view, we have seen the government of China go all out to assist people worst hit,'' said Doctors Without Borders' press officer Justine Geldard, who praised authorities for providing $316 million worth of emergency aid.

Relief groups working with authorities are distributing food, medicine, prescription drugs, water purification tablets, and chlorine to combat unsanitary conditions. Geldard described a floating mess of ``dead rats, fish, farm animals, and human feces'' in the aftermath of flooding.

One relief worker who asked not to be named said that when floods ravaged Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic last summer, ``it didn't look any better than China. It was just on a smaller scale. The Chinese are dealing not with hundreds of thousands, but with millions of people.''

The Hong Kong Standard yesterday attributed flooding to erosion caused by rampant deforestation, and slammed China for not taking better preventive measures.

``If the many millions affected by floods were to pay a small tax each year ... much can be done on reforestation ... as well as removing the silt from the riverbed,'' the paper said in an editorial. The controversial Three Gorges Dam is scheduled to be completed by 2009, but the Standard said damming alone - without providing alternatives to illegal logging or enforcing environmental protection laws - will never solve the problem.

China's state media reported that a number of officials will be punished for fleeing the flooding or refusing to help bolster levees.

China has forbidden reporters from visiting flood-ravaged areas to verify official reports and casualties. Authorities have detained those who have ventured there anyway, the Associated Press reported.

The unusual rainfall is being attributed to last year's El Nino effect, and meteorologists forecast that five to seven more typhoons will hit China in the next three months, Xinhua reported.

Wilson Wong, assistant secretary general of the Hong Kong Red Cross, recently returned from affected areas in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces, and said people are suffering so much that the government should relieve the problem as quickly as possible, even if that means bursting dikes.

The Hong Kong Red Cross is hoping to raise $1.3 million to provide one month's aid to 217,000 people, he said.

Vian Lai, public relations officer of World Vision Hong Kong, an international relief group, described tremendous suffering in a flood-stricken area she visited in Jiangxi province. She saw water at waist height in people's homes, and met a sick, teenaged orphan whose grandmother lost her savings in the flood, and whose plight seemed emblematic of the whole.

``They had no money and no food. It was truly a `heavenly disaster, earthly calamity,''' she said, quoting a Chinese proverb.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa yesterday praised the millions of Chinese citizens and soldiers who are frantically bolstering river embankments, and appealed to Hong Kong residents to donate to relief efforts. The Hong Kong government has set aside $1.15 million for flood relief, he said.

Editorial assistant Liz Lau provided information for this report.

Also:

"China's floods are most destructive in decades", Reuters, Aug.11, 1998

BEIJING - With no end in sight to flooding along China's Yangtze river, an official said on Monday that the devastation has far exceeded that caused by floods in 1954, still remembered as the worst in the country's modern history.

"This year's floods seem to have already surpassed the 1954 floods in terms of destruction," an official at the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Monday.

Whereas 18.88 million people were affected by the 1954 floods, 240 million have been directly affected by this summer's high waters - a figure roughly equal to the population of the United States, Ministry of Civil Affairs figures showed.

In addition, farmland covering 21.53 million hectares (83,100 square miles) - the combined areas of England and Ireland - is currently underwater, versus 3.17 million hectares (12,200 square miles) in 1954.

This year's floods have so far damaged or destroyed 17.63 million houses, compared with 4.28 million in 1954, according to ministry figures.

And the official price tag on flooding damage stood at more than $4.8 billion as of mid-July, four times the amount in 1954.

Only in terms of the number of people killed does the current disaster weigh favourably over 1954's floods. In 1954, 33,000 people died according to official statistics. This year's official death toll stands at 2,000, though it could still rise.

Other recent catastrophic floods along the Yangtze River occurred in 1949, 1935, 1931 and 1870 and claimed millions of lives.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

Also:

"Rats, cold, disease menace China's flood victims" Agence France-Press, Sept. 11,1998

BEIJING - Fever spread by rats is threatening Chinese flood victims huddled in overcrowded refugee camps where infectious diseases are spreading, relief officials said on Thursday.

Millions of peasants have been left homeless by the worst floods in China since 1954 and although flood waters are now retreating, disease is advancing.

Rodents scurrying to higher ground along with humans were spreading hemorrhagic fever, an untreatable viral disease, Red Cross official Sun Baiqiu said.

Sun, Vice President of the Red Cross Society of China, told a news conference that cases of the sometimes fatal disease were rising.

She said other diseases were also menacing refugee populations, and warned that "the danger of large scale epidemic outbreaks still exists".

"In the north the crucial problem people face is how to pass the winter. Because of the low temperatures, a lot of people are already suffering from flu and pneumonia," Sun said.

During bitter winters in China's north and northeast, temperatures often plummet to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degree Fahrenheit).

Cotton tents that provided adequate shelter for displaced flood victimes during summer months "won't be good enough for the winter", Sun said.

The Red Cross and other relief organisations have delivered quilts and clothes to victims, while the Chinese government has mainly provided shelter.

Kingsley Gee, the World Health Organistation's chief representative in Beijing, called the variation of hemorrhagic fever common to China "quite nasty".

"It can lead to bleeding into the internal tissues, and is fatal in five percent of cases," he said.

Along the Yangtze river in central China, Sun said there were small outbreaks of cholera, and leptospirosis - a bacterial disease spread by livestock and dirty water.

Cases of snail fever, caused by parasites in sewage-polluted water, have also been reported along the Yangtze.

Arne Jacobsen, an official with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies who recently visited flood zones, told the news conference he was impressed with relief work by the Chinese Red Cross and government.

He said the challenge would be to maintain relief supplies that would be needed for the rest of this year.

"There will be a long period still ahead which we have to call a disaster for most people affected," Jacobsen said.

He said the international federation was seeking a total of $9.5 million to fund more than 9,800 medical teams distributing medicine, water purification tablets and clothes.

Descriptions of misery among refugees contrast with upbeat official pronouncements of a glorious victory over the floods.

China Central Television on Thursday showed images of crowds in Hubei's Jingjiang city waving flags and reaching for the hands of People's Liberation Army soldiers who squeezed into trucks to head home after defending the city's dikes all summer.

China's tightly controlled media has paid scant attention to the conditions within refugee camps.

An editorial in Thursday's official China Daily said the floods had brought "spiritual wealth" by shoring up national unity and resolve.

Investment in post-flood rebuilding could spur the country to meet the central government's goal of eight percent economic growth in 1998, the editorial said.From: C-afp@clari.net (AFP)

Also:

"Flooding Yangtze collapses levee; 1,000 are missing" , The Boston Globe, Aug. 5, 1998

BEIJING -(AP) Floodwaters burst through a sodden levee protecting towns along China's flood-swollen Yangtze River, state media reported yesterday, and human rights groups said more than 1,000 people were likely to be missing.

Main Yangtze dikes remained intact, but secondary levees were breached in at least two counties and a city in central China's Huhei province, the official China Youth daily reported.

As of Monday, the bodies of nine soldiers had been recovered, according to the Informaiton Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China. The Hong Kong-based group said more than 1,000 people were believed to be missing.

Local officials have barred foreign journalists from visiting the worst flood areas, and state-controlled media tend to provide delayed or conflicting accounts and down play casualties.

About 400 soldiers were swept away when a secondary levee protecting 56,000 people in two towns collapsed, the official newspaper Yangcheng Evening News said. Soldiers and police pulled nearly 20,000 people from the water, the newspaper said.

Torrential rains in southwest Sichuan province also have triggered flooding that killed at least 20 people, bringing the known death toll from floods this year to 1,288.

In all, the Yangtze was threatening to burst its embankments in 3,200 places, with 1,800 of these considered :major," according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"The flood control situation remains extremely serious and will remain so for the foreseeable future," it said.

Also:

"Eastern China braces for worsening floods", Reuters, Aug. 3, 1998

By Scott Hillis

BEIJING - Flooding in eastern China was expected to intensify over the next few days as torrential rains hammer the region, weakening water-logged dikes, state media said on Friday.

A swell of water on the Yangtze River caused by downpours in the upper reaches was rushing through eastern provinces and bearing down on China's biggest city of Shanghai, officials said.

"Flooding will worsen along the Yangtze's mainstream, down from Wuhan, caused by the flood crest," the China Daily newspaper said.

Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province and an industrial metropolis of seven million people, was inundated last week when heavy rains coincided with the swell on the Yangtze, backing up the city's drainage system.

Summer rains across vast swathes of central, southern and eastern China triggered floods that have killed at least 2,500 people, left millions homeless and caused at least $4.8 billion in damage.

China has also blamed the floods for a drop of 11 million tonnes in its summer grain harvest compared to last year and for shearing 0.4 percentage point off first-half economic growth.

"The battle against the floodwaters of China's Yangtze River is expected to continue for the next few days," Xinhua quoted Zhang Zhitong, deputy head of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, as saying.

Although the floods have destroyed more than one million homes and forced the evacuations of nearly three million people, there has been scant official coverage of the misery faced by people who have lost family members, farms and businesses.

Along the Yangtze's banks, armies of camouflaged soldiers shovelled mud into sacks to reinforce the earthen dikes that were straining to hold back the swollen river, state television showed.

"Water levels on the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze are expected to remain dangerously high for a fairly long period of time, and the water-logged dikes could give way at any time," Zhang warned.

Apparently acting on warnings that foul sanitary conditions caused by the floods could trigger epidemics, squads of doctors clad in white smocks toured stricken areas giving check-ups to residents, television showed.

China said on Thursday that no epidemics had been reported, but Chinese and foreign health workers have said flood victims are at risk of cholera, malaria, diarrhoea and hepatitis.

While areas upstream have started to recover from rains that pumped the Yangtze's waters up to their highest levels since 1954, there was no sign of relief for those in the lower reaches.

Heavy rains were forecast for regions around Dongting Lake in central Hunan province and Boyang Lake in central Jiangxi province, the China Daily quoted hydrologists as saying.

The skies had dropped up to 14 cm (5.5 inches) on Jiangxi's river port city of Jiujiang on Thursday, pushing the Yangtze to just 25 cm (9.8 inches) from the top of the dikes, Xinhua said in an overnight report.

Millions of soldiers and civilians have been mobilised to shore up hundreds of km (miles) of earth and concrete dikes along the river.

But revealing incidents of official misdoing, Xinhua said 10 officials in Jiangxi had been sacked, detained or censured for failing to take proper anti-flood measures. It gave no further details.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.