Casualties from floods drop by 55%

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China has experienced a sharp decrease in flood-related casualties this year despite the highest level of precipitation in almost six decades in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, flood control officials said.

About 63.5 million people across the country have been affected by floods this year, up 12.7 percent from the average of the past five years. Direct economic losses have reached almost 179 billion yuan ($25.8 billion), up 15.5 percent during that same time, said Zhou Xuewen, vice-minister of both the emergency management and water resources ministries.

The number of people left dead or missing, however, decreased by 54.8 percent from the five-year average to 219, he said at a news conference organized by the State Council Information Office on Thursday.

The sharp decrease occurred thanks to enhanced efforts in monitoring, forecasting, evacuation and the operation of major water conservancy projects to help store floodwaters, he said.

"The top priority of flood control and drought relief headquarters at different levels is to ensure the safety of people's lives and wealth. They have been demanding that local authorities take decisive steps to evacuate people threatened by floods," he said.

This year, some 4 million people have been evacuated, the largest number in recent years, he added.

Ling Yueming, vice-minister of natural resources, said timely evacuations also were made across the country in 274 geological disasters, such as landslides caused by heavy rain, from January to July. That kept an estimated 9,764 people from being injured or killed, Ling said.

Yu Yong, deputy head of the China Meteorological Administration, said the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River received more precipitation than in any year since 1961 during the region's major rainy season, which ended on July 31 and was 23 days longer than usual.

The total precipitation during the season in those areas reached 753.9 millimeters, 168 percent more than usual and over 180 millimeters more than in 1998, when devastating floods raged through the Yangtze basin, he said.

The season, the long period of continuous rainy or cloudy weather in the two areas, is called the Plum Rains. The name is a reference to the time when plums ripen.

Yu also warned that northern China is expected to see more sudden, brief but heavy rainstorms as the country's major rainy season lingers until September, with more typhoons than usual.

Wednesday's downpours, the heaviest of the rainy season in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, subsided on Thursday. But the National Meteorological Center renewed a yellow alert for rainstorms-the third-highest of a four-tier system-warning of possible bouts of precipitation of up to 130 millimeters in a large area, mostly in northern China, for the 24 hours starting at 2 pm on Thursday.

Forecasters warned that the heaviest hourly precipitation during that time could exceed 60 millimeters in areas that included Shandong, Shanxi and Liaoning provinces.

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