State media in North Korea are now saying that 5,000 people have been evacuated from in and around the northwestern border town of Sinuiju following the breaching of a dike on the Yalu River, which marks the border with China, on the outskirts of the Chinese port city of Dandong on Saturday. Sinuiju and surrounding villages were said to have been “severely affected” by the flooding of the rain swollen Yalu. Military units, including the air force and navy, have been deployed in rescue operations and to help shore up flood defences.
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The picture above shows North Koreans reinforcing the banks of the Yalu at Sinuiju on Sunday.
On the Chinese side 94,000 people have been evacuated from Dandong. Four people are reported to have died as a result of the rains that started on Thursday, with at least one more missing. More than 200 houses have been destroyed in the city and its surrounding townships. The water level of the Yalu had fallen below critical levels by Sunday, but more rain, inevitably, is in the forecast.
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While residents across Liaoning cope with the latest floods (the picture above was taken in the provincial capital Shenyang), authorities are again on flood and landslide alert across the country as more heavy rain in the upper reaches of the Yangtze and in the northeast has raised water levels in many rivers back to danger levels. Authorities have also called off the search for survivors of the mudslide that hit Zhouqu in Gansu two weeks ago. The official death toll stands at 1,435 as of Sunday, with 330 still missing.
The feared flooding of the Yalu River along the border with North Korea has led to a further 50,000 people being evacuated from Dandong at the river’s mouth after the waters breached a dike on the outskirts of the city. A second dike protecting the centre of the city has held so far. Some buildings on the outskirts have been flooded to the first floor. Rail services to the provincial capital Shenyang are now cut because the line is underwater. Three people are reported missing. Authorities are now concentrating on preventing landslides.
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Renewed rain started falling heavily on Friday swelling the river, which was already at sufficiently critical levels for shipping lanes to have been closed for three days earlier this month and a first round of evacuations undertaken. The picture of a tributary of the Yalu looking from Dandong towards the North Korean town of Sinuiju was taken on Aug. 6.
We are hearing reports that flood damage on the North Korean side of the river as a result of the most recent rains has been extensive. North Korea has already acknowledged that there has been substantial damage in the east of the country as a result of the exceptionally heavy rains that have fallen all summer.
More torrential rain is forecast for the region over the next 24 hours, and for central and southwestern China.
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Shipping on the Yalu River (above, looking towards North Korea), which marks China’s border with its reclusive neighbor, has been suspended following more torrential rain that has swollen the river to critical levels, and prompted fears of further devastating flooding on both sides of the border. More than 40,000 residents from Dandong at the mouth of the river in Liaoning have been evacuated to higher ground. The Tumen River, which borders North Korea in Jilin, where flooding has already killed at least 74 people and affected 4 million, is similarly swollen, with another round of heavy rain expected imminently.
Red Cross workers in North Korea have reported heavy damage by floods in the east of the country, with buildings, bridges and roads destroyed. North Korean state media reported earlier this week that widespread damage had been caused by this summer’s exceptionally heavy rains that are falling across Asia, with 36,700 acres (14,850 hectares) of farmland destroyed. Flooding in North Korea in 2006 and again in 2007 brought on by torrential rains caused extensive loss of life and damage, particularly to farmland, and raised the prospect of widespread food shortages and a repeat of the famine of the mid-1990s that is said to have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The latest official figures put China’s death toll from flood-triggered disasters across the country so far this year at more than 1,450 with another 669 missing. More than 2 million hectares of farmland have been destroyed and 13.5 million hectares of crops damaged. Nearly 1.4 million houses have been destroyed. The total economic loss is now put at more than 275 billion yuan ($40.6 billion), according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Beijing has allocated 195 million yuan for relief work to local governments in the five provinces worst-hit by the rains and typhoons, Jilin, Guangdong, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Guangxi Zhuang.
This is unusual. Beijing has accused North Korean border guards of shooting dead three Chinese citizens and wounding a fourth. The incident took place last week near the border town of Dandong, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. The four were reportedly trying to smuggle copper out of North Korea. Beijing has filed a formal complaint with Pyongyang.
There is a flourishing smuggling business in both directions across the border in addition to the legal trade between the two countries (China accounts for four-fifths of North Korea’s trade and North Korea’s half-hidden private markets are full of black-market Chinese goods), but it is unusual for the commerce to be interrupted in this way, and even more so for China to make a public complaint about it. Coming as it does in the wake of the torpedoing of the South Korean corvette the Cheonan in March, and China’s strenuous fence-sitting efforts to reduce tensions on the peninsula while not letting itself be pushed into joining the international condemnation of North Korea for being responsible for the attack, it all seems curiouser still.
This Bystander wonders if just as the strains of a leadership succession are being seen in North Korea, so there has been an outbreak of factional friction in China between the Foreign Ministry and the Party’s International Department, which traditionally has had the final — and harder line — say in policy towards their Korean War era allies in Pyongyang.