A total of 1.6 million people are guarding the embankments of the swollen Huaihe River and its tributaries as the battle against the floodwaters reaches a critical point, local flood control officials said on Saturday.
The floodwater crest is flowing rapidly towards the middle reaches of the river, where water levels have exceeded warning marks for more than 40 hours, said officials from Huaihe Flood Control Headquarters.
The high water levels will remain for a long period and major sections of the embankments risk being breached at any time, warned the officials in Anhui Province, east China.
By July 11, they had detected and reinforced 24 threatened sections.
Flood control officials said on Saturday the water level at Zhengyangguan hydrological station on the middle reaches of the river, reached a record 27.65 meters at 5 pm Friday, and the water level at Jiangba hydrological station on Hongze Lake, on the lower reaches of the Huaihe River, also rose to a record 14.3 meters at 7 pm Friday.
The flood control authorities are preparing to use more floodwater diversion areas.
Preparations are now underway to make Chengxi Lake, the largest floodwater diversion area in the Huaihe River Valley, ready to take floodwaters.
Premier Wen Jiabao flew to the Huaihe River Saturday to inspect and direct flood control work along the river ravaged by the worst flooding since 1991.
The valley has been hit by heavy to rainstorms in recent weeks, and tens of millions of residents have been affected and several million hectares of farmland have been inundated.
The Huaihe River originates in Henan Province, central China, and runs through the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Shandong, east China, before emptying into the Yellow Sea.
The river valley, home to 150 million residents, is one of the country's major grain-producing areas.
(Xinhua News Agency July 12, 2003)