July 30, 2007 / 2:04 AM / 12 years ago

China summer storm deaths approach 700

BEIJING (Reuters) - Deaths from floods, lightning and landslides across China this summer have reached nearly 700, state media said on Monday, with experts warning that global warming is likely to fuel more violent weather.

A man stands near stairs on a flooded street in southwest China's Chongqing municipality July 29, 2007. More than 500 people have already died nationwide in floods and landslides this summer, underscoring the vulnerability of its huge rural population to natural disasters. REUTERS/Stringer

Over the weekend alone, fierce storms and hail killed 17 people across four provinces.

Ten died in the central province of Hubei, where rain and hail have added to swollen waters along the country’s longest river, the Yangtze, and its main tributary, the Han.

In the northwestern province of Shaanxi, five died in floods that cut off roads around Shangluo, Xinhua news agency said.

A hail storm on Saturday hit parts of the eastern province Anhui, where millions of residents have been grappling with the threat of the swollen Huai River for the past month, killing one person and injuring three, Xinhua said.

Flood waters on the Huai have begun to retreat, but many thousands of people remained stationed along its embankments to prevent breaches, it added.

One person died in a lightning strike in weekend storms in the flood-battered southwestern province of Sichuan, Xinhua said.

At least 3,000 ship-borne tourists along the Yangtze had to switch to buses on Monday as flood water from its upper reaches in the country’s southwest forced the closure of locks at the massive Three Gorges Dam, Xinhua said.

The Xinjiang Daily said deluges bringing landslides and land subsidence had cut highways throughout the far northwestern region. One would take about two months to repair.

Summer storms are nothing new in China, but experts said global warming driven by growing greenhouse gas emissions from factories, farms and vehicles was fuelling more intense weather.

“The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing — records for worst-in-a-century rainstorms, droughts and heatwaves are being broken more often,” Dong Wenjie, director-general of the Beijing Climate Centre, said in an interview on its Web site (www.ncc.cma.gov.cn).

“This in fact is closely associated with global warming.”

Global warming is usually associated with drought, but warmer, moister air is likely to bring more concentrated storms to many parts, scientists say.

Floods have affected 119 million people, or nearly one tenth of China’s 1.3 billion population, and caused economic losses of 52.5 billion yuan ($7 billion), Xinhua said.

Farmers have borne the brunt of the damage and casualties, underscoring the vulnerability of the huge rural population to natural disasters.

But coal miners in central China have also become victims of the storms. Sixty-nine miners in Henan have been trapped since Sunday in a pit flooded by rainwater that surged through an old shaft, Xinhua reported.

Rescuers have pumped out water and drilled holes to provide oxygen to the trapped miners.

Soldiers prepare for rescue work after a rainstorm hit southwest China's Chongqing municipality July 29, 2007. More than 500 people have already died nationwide in floods and landslides this summer, underscoring the vulnerability of its huge rural population to natural disasters. REUTERS/Stringer

Forecasters said torrential rain was likely to hit parts of the southwestern provinces Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan as well as Hubei in the coming days. Storms could also soak the country’s dry north and northwest on Monday.

Other parts of China are suffering meteorological misery of different kinds.

More than 1 million people faced shortages of drinking water in several southern provinces as a heatwave compounded weeks of drought.

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