The most "severe floods" since 1998 might hit the Yangtze River this summer, a senior flood-control official warned yesterday.
"Meteorological and hydrological features in the Yangtze River valley this year are similar to those in 1998," Cai Qihua, deputy chief of the Yangtze River Flood Control Headquarters, was quoted by the China News Service as saying.
She added that studies on the frequency of major flooding also point to the possibility this year.
Floods in 1998 killed more than 3,000 people and left 14 million homeless nationwide; and caused losses of $24 billion.
That year, said Cai, China was under the grip of the El Nino weather system, manifested in the form of severe typhoons and floods.
The El Nino effect was also felt in the past winter - which was unusually warm - resulting in vast amounts of snow melting in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, where the Yangtze originates.
The China Meteorological Administration has forecast heavy rainfalls and typhoons this summer, mainly in the southern part of the country, especially the lower reaches of Yangtze.
Heavy floods could be potentially disastrous as affluent and populous cities such as Nanjing, Wuhan and Chongqing are situated along the river.
Cai also warned that the Three Georges reservoir might face a severe test.
As 28,000 people still live in areas which could be flooded if the water storage level hits the maximum of 175 meters, she urged the local governments to evacuate people in time so that the reservoir can hold enough water to protect cities in the lower reaches from being inundated.
In an emergency notice yesterday, the Ministry of Land and Resources requested local authorities to inspect reservoirs, roads and houses in mountainous areas, and put in place emergency response measures.
Efforts to repair damaged river banks have been stepped up in the Yangtze River valley. The authorities have reinforced 2,259 km of riverbanks, dredged 5,093 km of river beds and improved 2,833 reservoirs.
Official figures show that of the more than 85,000 reservoirs in the country, 30,000 face serious problems, including 200 large and 1,600 medium-sized reservoirs.
Jiao Yong, vice-minister of water resources, earlier described those reservoirs as "time bombs" that threaten the lives and property of people living downstream.
(China Daily May 24, 2007)