June 16, 2008 / 8:27 AM / 10 years ago

Quake-hit China now menaced by floods, landslides

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By Chris Buckley

BEIJING, June 16 (Reuters) - Floods triggered by torrential rains have killed dozens of people across China, as officials struggle to move thousands of victims last month’s earthquake to escape the threat of rain-triggered landslides.

Already reeling from the May 12 quake centred on southwest Sichuan province that killed more than 70,000 people, floods in southern China have killed at least 57 people in recent days and forced 1.27 million to move to safer ground, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.

The floods have been especially heavy in southern Guangdong province, home to many of the country’s export businesses.

By Sunday, 20 people in Guangdong had died in the floods, eight were missing, and more than 4,800 houses had collapsed, provincial flood officials told Xinhua.

Nearly 240,000 Guangdong residents were shifted to safer ground, including 60,000 in Shenzhen, the trade hub next to Hong Kong, the provincial water resources office said, according to the official Southern Daily.

State television showed footage of buildings submerged up to their second floors and troops rescuing stranded residents with boats on streets-turned-canals.

"Many factories were soaked since the heavy rain started last Thursday," said Feng Fei, an office worker in Dongguan, a manufacturing hub north of Shenzhen.

"My company is not big, but we probably have to pay as many as 10 million yuan ($1.45 million) for about 200 cars damaged by the floods," Feng told Reuters by telephone.

Officials estimated that economic damage from the floods across Guangdong had reached 3.8 billion yuan ($540 million), much of it to farms and fisheries.


Rains have also pounded northwest China, killing two people in Longnan, a region in Gansu province, where hundreds died in last month’s earthquake.

Flooding has also been reported in Jiangxi province and Guangxi, a major sugar-producing region neighbouring Guangdong.

Analysts said the floods’ impact on industrial and agricultural production would be limited.

"China has floods every year and droughts are a much more serious problem for China’s food supply and food prices," Ting Lu, China economist at Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong said.

But heavy rain likely in the next few days would "increase the destructiveness of flood hazards and make the flood prevention and relief situation nationwide even more serious", Xinhua cited the Ministry of Civil Affairs as warning.

The national meteorological service said the 5,500-km (3,400-mile) Yellow River flowing through the north might also see "quite large" floods this year, Xinhua reported late on Sunday.

The Yellow River, China’s second longest after the Yangtze, has experienced devastating floods in the past, but in recent decades has been more prone to water scarcity.

Forecasters also warned that fresh storms could also lash parts of the Yangtze River delta region, a major manufacturing centre near Shanghai, and parts of provinces across the east, south and southwest.

The floods have come at a bad time for China, which is struggling to evacuate tens of thousands of people from quake-hit areas under threat from rain-triggered landslides and to provide housing for millions of people rendered homeless.

With tremors still jolting hillsides, officials have decided to relocate 50,000 residents at risk of landslides in Wenchuan County, the epicentre of the quake.

"Continued tremors and multiple strong tremors have constantly caused shore collapses and mudslides on fragile slopes in Wenchuan County, and damaged houses have constantly collapsed in the tremors," the Xinhua news agency reported.

Last week, county officials told threatened residents to move to safer areas, and troops had relocated 3,000 by Monday, Xinhua reported. All at risk must be moved by the end of June, before the rainy season starts in earnest, it said.

The flooding and foul weather is the latest in a string of disasters to befall China this year. Many of the same provinces were paralysed by freak cold weather in January and February. (Reporting by Chris Buckley, Guo Shipeng and Ian Ransom; Editing by David Fogarty) ($1 = 6.902 Yuan) (chris.buckley@reuters.com; +86 10 66271261)

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