IMAGE: Flooded shop in Chongqing
Str  /  AFP - Getty Images
A girl sits in front of a flooded shop in Chongqing, southwest China, on Thursday. news services
updated 7/20/2007 11:22:29 AM ET 2007-07-20T15:22:29

Torrential rains, mud flows and lightning strikes have killed at least 79 people in China this week, state media reported Thursday.

Weeks of heavy rain show no sign of letup and one round of storms hit an eastern city Wednesday, killing 31 people and injuring 171. The Health Ministry warned citizens that drinking water supplies were under threat.

Large swathes of the country have been hit by severe flooding this summer, killing more than 400 people so far.

The most recent deaths were in Jinan, capital of coastal Shandong province, which received a record 7 inches of rain within three hours on Wednesday, Xinhua news agency said.

Further rain was also expected to hit the southwestern province of Sichuan where 54 people have died since the beginning of July and 22 were missing, Xinhua said.

"The task for Sichuan to prevent flooding is very heavy — it could happen any time," Sichuan provincial authorities were quoted as saying.

'Isolated islands' in city
In the nearby landlocked city of Chongqing, hit by the heaviest rainfall since records began in 1892, 37 people had died and the city and its suburbs had become "isolated islands" as streets flooded, Chinese media said.

Slideshow: Deadly downpours Traffic was gridlocked on the narrow streets of Chongqing, a hilly city that spans the Yangtze River 1,000 miles west of where the river flows into the Pacific Ocean near Shanghai. Rain continued to fall on the city Wednesday and photos showed cars and buses mired in floodwaters up to their windshields.

The Health Ministry said the floods, and outbreaks of algae on lakes caused by hot weather and pollution, threatened drinking water supplies. It said officials must pay more heed to the problem.

"Since the start of summer, the flood situation has been serious, some areas have had algae outbreaks, and there have been many water pollution incidents," it said in a statement.

"This has had a large impact on drinking water safety and people's lives," it added. "Drinking water safety has a direct impact on health and social stability and harmony."

In the far western region of Xinjiang, 11 people had died and more than 100 been injured in rainstorms since Saturday, Xinhua said. More than 80 vehicles had been stranded on a highway in neighboring Tibet where heavy rains caused landslides.

Rats on the run
Floods have also caused a 2-billion-strong plague of rats fleeing rising waters in Dongting Lake in Hunan province. The rodents have been blamed for destroying 6,200 square miles of cropland and have stoked fears of disease.

Media reports have blamed the rat plague on a lack of snakes, a popular dish in the south, and of owls, used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Hunan government denied the reports, saying the Dongting Lake area was not an ideal habitat for snakes, Xinhua said.

"The top enemy of the rats are hawks that spend winter in the wetlands around the lake but fly away in the spring," a forestry expert was quoted as saying.

The local government had contained the rat threat and taken effective measures to prevent epidemics, the state agency said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Daring rescue


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