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China rushes to fix dams as 9,000 sq miles flooded

FENGKOU, China (Reuters) - China has posted hundreds of police and rescue officials to shore up dams threatening to burst under torrential rain that has already flooded thousands of square miles of crops and homes.

A resident looks out from her home in the township of Yuecheng in Deqing county, west of Guangdong Province, June 18, 2008. REUTERS/Aly Song

The rain and floods, concentrated in the southern industrial hub of Guangdong, have killed at least 171 people and left 52 missing since the start of the annual flood season and forecasters have warned of more downpours in coming days.

More than 750 government officials and police had been sent to conduct rescue work for six reservoirs in “danger of bursting” in southern Guangxi region, Xinhua news agency said.

Some 3,000 people had already been evacuated downstream from a reservoir with a capacity of 1.8 million cubic metres, the agency said.

More than 1.66 million people have been evacuated across nine provinces and regions in southern China since major flooding started 11 days ago.

Families were perched on the roofs of homes flooded up to the first-floor ceiling, enduring the latest in a series of disasters in Beijing’s Olympic year after record snowstorms in January and February and the devastating May 12 earthquake.

Rain-triggered floods have toppled 134,000 houses, damaged or destroyed 2.32 million hectares (9,000 square miles) of crops and caused economic losses of 27.7 billion yuan (2 billion pounds).

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China’s meteorological bureau forecast storms in western Guangdong and southern Guangxi and warned authorities to halt outdoor work and guard against damaged electric cables.


Water levels in the swollen Xijiang and Beijiang rivers in Guangdong were subsiding slowly, but rain forecast over the next three days would provide renewed risk of flooding, Xinhua said.

Heavy rains forecast for neighbouring Fujian province could also “cause geological disasters”.

Provincial water authorities earlier reported the Pearl River Delta, a major exporting base, had suffered its greatest flooding in 50 years.

Sherman Chan, an Australia-based economist with, said the economic cost would be measured not only in the direct damage and lost output in the flooded areas, but also in worsening food price inflation across the country.

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Thousands of hectares of destroyed crops would add to price pressures as China battles inflation that has been driven by soaring food costs over the past year, she said.

“From a macroeconomic management perspective, each disaster appears more challenging for Beijing than the last,” Chan said.

Residents of Hekou, a village on the outskirts of Pearl River Delta town Sanshui, waded chest-high through streets turned into coffee-coloured canals.

“We carried everything upstairs -- a cabinet, the TV, the refrigerator, the motorcycle,” said Wu, who sells fish from the river for a living. “There’s nothing else you can do.”

China suffers floods, droughts and other disasters across its huge landmass every year. Some economists have said the cost of this year’s flooding appears no greater than in previous years.

But analysts have warned sustained rains could reduce sugar production in Guangxi, which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s crop.

Rain has also been forecast for quake-hit areas of Sichuan, where officials have warned of renewed threats of epidemics as summer temperatures rise.

The 7.9 magnitude quake killed more than 69,000 people and left about five million homeless.

Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Nick Macfie