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Death toll in China floods hits 57; more rain expected

A large crack in an embankment of the Xi River threatens the city of Wuzhou.

June 16, 2008|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — The toll rose Sunday to at least 57 people dead and eight missing as pounding weekend rains flooded wide areas of southern China and added to the misery of a nation already racked by natural disasters this year.

More rain is forecast over the next 10 days, and authorities were concerned about a 130-foot-long crack in an embankment of the Xi River, a major tributary of the Pearl River.

The opening put at risk the nearby city of Wuzhou, population 3 million.

More than 1 million people have already been evacuated from the flood zones.

The flooding was driving up already-inflated food prices, with vegetable prices rising as much as 70% in Guangdong province, according to the official New China News Agency.

Inflation of food prices was already a pressing concern in China after storms that damaged cropland over Chinese New Year and last month's quake in Sichuan province.

Summer flooding is a perennial problem in China, but early indications are that this year's could be extraordinary.

The news agency described flooding along Pearl River, which flows into a basin between Hong Kong and Macao, as the worst in decades. The hardest hit provinces were Guangdong, the manufacturing hub of the country, along with Jiangxi, Guangxi, Fujian, Guizhou and Yunnan. Heavy rains were reported as well in Sichuan province and could compound damage from the May 12 earthquake, which killed 70,000.

Chinese television showed villagers pushing sandbags to plug holes in dikes and people rowing boats down city streets past second-floor windows. People trapped on upper floors shouted to rescue workers in boats to send up instant noodles and drinking water.

There were dozens of reports of tragic accidents. A nun was killed in a taxi that overturned in flood waters. In Shenzhen, a husband and wife were electrocuted Friday while trying to clear out their flooded fruit shops.

"Their two children were at school that day. Now they are orphans," said Wang Lingyun, a family friend, in a telephone interview.

Much of the concern Sunday was focused on the embankment near Wuzhou, 200 miles northwest of Hong Kong.

"If the crack widened and the dike collapsed, the flood would directly threaten the safety of the western part of Wuzhou city," Zhang Jinshen, a flood control official, was quoted as telling the news agency.

Wuzhou sustained heavy damage during flooding in June 2005.

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barbara.demick@latimes.com

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