Southern China is bracing for a new set of devastating floods and landslides after weather authorities announced an emergency response plan Sunday.
It forecasted a new round of torrential rains set to slam into a region that has already seen more than 170 people killed or missing by the extreme weather conditions.
In the next three days, heavy downpours will hit the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, along with thunderstorms and heavy winds, the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) said Sunday.
The widespread rain could easily trigger mountain floods, landslides and mudslides to a region still suffering the effects of a long drought, the CMA said.
To effectively deal with the situation, the administration launched a third-level emergency response for meteorological disaster in five provinces, namely Hunan, Hubei, Anhui, Zhejiang and Guizhou.
Several regions already bore the brunt of the heavy rains Sunday. Hunan issued two orange rainstorm alerts, the second-highest alert level, while Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region issued three orange alerts. China's national weather alerts range through blue, yellow, orange and red in ascending order of severity.
As of Sunday, the body count numbered 94 people dead, with 78 more missing. The weather had destroyed 27,100 houses, affected 465,000 hectares of crops and 8.48 million people, causing direct economic losses of 7.44 billion yuan ($1.12 billion), according to the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (SFDH).
"Currently, Hunan and Hubei are the two provinces having most suffered from the disasters. The floods have caused severe casualties and dam breaches in some smaller reservoirs," Shu Qingpeng, a deputy head of the office, told China Central Television.
"We have over 1000 rescuers made up of soldiers, doctors and civil servants still searching for the bodies, though the chances of survival for the missing are slim," Hu Zigui, spokesman from Linxiang, Hunan, told the Global Times Sunday.
A sudden torrential midnight flood destroyed the village of Guanshan in Linxiang early Friday morning.
As of Sunday afternoon, 20 bodies had been found, but another 7 were still unaccounted for, according to Hu.
Hu said all the surviving villagers were being sheltered in a nearby primary school and had been given basic supplies.
Local governments are evacuating people ahead of the next onslaught.
"The mudslides have affected more than 18,000 people, most of them have been relocated in nearby villages," a government worker surnamed Fan with the town of Ronghua in Hunan, told the Global Times, adding that around 9,000 more had to be evacuated.
Meanwhile, no major risks of breaches in larger rivers or dams were reported, with all water levels at least a meter below warning markers, the Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday, quoting information from the SFDH.
Despite heavy rains, certain areas of Anhui, Hunan, Jiangsu and Hubei provinces are subject to lingering drought with 2 million hectares of farmland and 1.36 million people short of water.
In Hubei, where the rain-triggered disasters had claimed 23 deaths and 11 missing as of Saturday, some regions are struggling to find new water resources.
About 80,000 residents in Danjiangkou, Hubei were short of drinking water, China News Service reported Saturday.
Chen Zhenghong, a senior meteorologist from the Hubei Meteorological Bureau, said the "rare" sudden shift from drought to floods was characteristic of climate change, according to the Chutian Metropolis Daily.
A report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization issued last week said climate change would reduce river runoffs and soil water retention, reducing water supplies for agriculture, and warning that it would be tough to feed 2 billion more people by 2050 unless immediate actions were taken.
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