The death toll from the torrential rains that have inundated many of the southern and central provinces has now passed 700 for the year to date, Xinhua reports. Another 347 people are reported still missing in what are the worst floods in a decade. (Map of affected provinces.) Beyond the human toll, direct economic losses are now put at 142.2 billion yuan ($21 billion). The State Council, after a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, warned that the situation remains critical; the rain-swollen Yangtze (below) and Huaihe Rivers and Taihu Lake are above safety levels and the third typhoon of the season, Chanthu, has just made landfall on the south coast.
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The floods have caused fears of a repeat of the devastating 1998 floods when embankments burst along a similarly rain-swollen Yangtze, leaving more than 4,000 people dead. The Three Gorges Dam was built partly to act as a flood control to prevent that happening again. The shipping locks at the dam were closed for three days earlier this week, though have now been reopened.