SOUTHERN CHINA HAS been seeing its heaviest summer rains for 60 years, bringing floods, widespread destruction of crops and more disruption to supply chains.
Hundreds of thousands of Guangdong and Guangxi residents living around the Pearl River delta have been evacuated after a week of persistently high rains. State media have aired footage of people being rescued with ropes and rubber dinghies, and cars floating down streets. Several cities in Guangdong have raised their flood alerts to the highest level.
The rain has disrupted manufacturing and shipping, already suffering under strict anti-Covid measures. Particularly in the more mountainous north of the province, where the flooding is most severe and landslides have happened, businesses were ordered to close temporarily, and public transport was suspended as rising waters approached dangerous levels. The direct economic loss so far is estimated at more than 1.7 billion yuan ($250 million).
To the north of Guangdong, Jiangxi province has also raised its flood warnings. Officials report direct economic losses already reaching 470 million yuan, with 43,300 hectares of crops inundated.
In neighbouring Hunan province, 21,607 hectares have been damaged, and there are reports of landslides and building collapses.
China’s National Meteorological Center warned that downpours could continue for another week, although the heaviest rains are expected to move northwards across central China from mid-week.
In recent years, climate change has made the south wetter and the north hotter and drier.
AUTHORITIES SAY THAT none of the 123 passengers and nine crew aboard a China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 that plunged into a Guangxi hillside on March 21 survived.
Rescue teams have identified 120 of the victims so far through DNA analysis. The search for human remains and plane wreckage continues in the steeply wooded and rain-sodden area.
The crash is China’s most deadly aviation disaster in nearly three decades.
State media report that the second ‘black box’, the flight data recorder, has been found. The first, the cockpit voice recorder, was recovered earlier. It was reportedly badly damaged, but aviation officials said on March 26 that data is being downloaded and analysed.
As the heatwave stifling north and east China now reaches parts of the south, too, flood control officials have declared the seasonal rain storms that have caused devastating flooding and deadly landslides across 11 southern provinces over the past month to have come to an end. The rains, described as the worst in five years, have left 266 people dead with 199 more missing. Rain-triggered mudslides were responsible for four out of five of those killed or missing. More than 44 million people are said to have been effected and a third of a million homes destroyed. The direct economic damage is put at 65 billion yuan ($9.5 billion). Swollen rivers and weakened dams and embankments remain a danger.
The death toll from the rain-triggered landslide in Guizhou three days ago that buried 37 homes under an estimated 2 million cubic meters of mud has risen to 13 with 86 others missing but presumed dead. The rescue operation has turned into one of recovery. The picture below shows paramilitary police searching the site of the disaster in Dazhai Village, Guanling county, Guizhou earlier this week.
Torrential rain has battered Guizhou and other southern provinces over the past two months, causing widespread flooding and putting dykes and levees along swollen rivers at risk. Guangxi was hit earlier this week with what Xinhua described as a ‘once-in-three-centuries’ rainstorm. In Jiangxi to the east water levels in Poyang Lake, the country’s largest freshwater lake, are so high they are starting to force leaks through the lake’s embankments, putting some 10.000 people at risk should they fail.
All this is prompting fears of a repeat of 1998’s floods that left nearly 4,000 dead. As concerning heavy rains are now falling in Qinghai on the Tibetan Plateau where both the Yellow and the Yangtze Rivers have their headwaters.
More heavy rain is expected in in the already inundated southern provinces, raising fears of more loss of life from mudslides and flash flooding particularly in Fujian, Hunan and Guangxi. At least 35 people have died and 49 are missing following this week’s seasonal downpours. In Sichuan on Tuesday, 23 people died when a landslide cascaded down a mountain into dormitory tents on a construction site. Across western and southern China, more than 100,000 have been evacuated from their homes, Xinhua reports. In all, more than 150 people have died so far as a result of this year’s rainy season.
Update: More than 2.5 million people across six southern provinces have been affected by this week’s rain and 238,000 had been evacuated from their homes, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Thursday, adding that more than 33,000 homes had collapsed or been damaged. The known death toll has risen to 46.
An update to the death toll from the flooding and landslides in Guangxi: Xinhua now says at least 51 people are dead with two unaccounted for following this week’s rain storms. Thirty of the deaths were recorded after rain-triggered mudslides buried several homes in mountainside villages in Yulin City.
Heavy rains and flooding have affected 23 million people, caused at least 125 deaths and cost 17 billion yuan in economic damage so far this year, Xinhua says. The latest fatalities — at least 38 in Guangxi — came after landslides were set off by the storms and gales that have battered southern China this week. [picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=guangxi%2c+floods&iid=1384438″ src=”7/9/1/8/5f.jpg?adImageId=13089207&imageId=1384438″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]
The rains started Monday causing flooding across 27 counties in the autonomous region and forcing the evacuation of 80,000 people. More heavy rain caused widespread damage across the region last month, too.
Deadly summer flash floods are a perennial problem in the central and southern areas of the country where millions live and farm on rivers’ flood plains. Rain-triggered landslides are the killers in the mountains, flattening rural buildings that are often rudimentary and poorly constructed. The picture here, of Wuzhou in Guangxi, is from two years ago when flash flooding killed 176 people in the region.
Rain has brought sufficient relief to much of the drought-stricken southwest for China to call off its Grade 2 emergency response. Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi, parts of Chongqing municipality have had modest rains, but Yunnan remains arid, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief said. Up to 123 million mu (8.3 million hectares) of arable land has been affected by the drought, the most severe in living memory, and 18 million people and 12 million farm animals still remain short of water. At its peak, 50 million people faced water shortages.
Meanwhile a tornado bringing strong winds and heavy rain has hit Chongqing, killing at least 23 people and injuring 160 in the Liangping and Dianjiang districts.
Oxfam, the international aid agency, says more than 10 million people are now affected by the continuing drought in southwestern China and that it has been shipping in water to the region from Hong Kong. Yunnan is hardest hit with 6 million people facing water shortages and 31.5 million mu (2.1 million hectares) of land affected causing crop and livestock losses estimated at more than 10 billion yuan ($1.47 billion). In all, 61.31 million mu (4.1 million hectares) of farmland across Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and the Chongqing municipality have become arid, and half of it seriously damaged, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Wheat and vegetables have withered in the fields; the region produces an eighth of the country’s grain and is a leading sugarcane and rubber producer. The sugarcane harvest, such as it was this year, is over, with yields down by an estimated 12% over last year. Rubber-tapping is due to start next month, and its yields, too, are expected to be below normal.
The drought is the worst in 60 years. There has been no rain in the region since last October and none is in the immediate forecast. Cloud seeding has triggered a little snow and rain but nothing on the scale needed to relieve the drought, though 2 million yuan has been ear-marked to make make rain or snow artificially. Xinhua reports that water levels in the Yangtze at Chongqing are at record lows. In some parts of the river, ships are stranded and water traffic has ceased.
Up to 6 million people have been affected by drought in south and southwestern China. Conditions are said to be the most arid in more than half a century, echoing the situation on the similarly drought-stricken North China Plain before the winter snows.
In Yunnan, more than 5 million people are facing water shortages and four fifths of all farmland has been affected, according to provincial governor Qin Guangrong. The economic cost is being put at near $1 billion. The dry conditions allied to strong winds are causing an exceptionally high number of forest fires. In neighboring Guizhou to the northwest, about a quarter of a million people are short of water.
Some areas of Guangxi, which like Yunnan borders Vietnam, haven’t seen rainfall since last August. Rivers are drying up. Drinking water is being trucked into villages, where Xinhua reports, more than a quarter of a million people are short of water. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited affected areas last week to inspect relief efforts. Guangxi produces 60% of the country’s sugar. Production is estimated to have fallen 5% in 2009 because of the drought. Sugarcane prices have hit a three-year high.
Weather forecasters see no rain in the immediate future going into spring planting. Cloud seeding operations to force rainfall have had only spotty success. The rainy season in the region doesn’t usually start until May.