BEIJING — Floods and landslides triggered by torrential summer rains have killed at least 143 people and left dozens missing in southwestern China, officials and state television reported Tuesday.
Thousands of army and navy personnel and other rescue workers were in Sichuan province helping displaced residents, unloading emergency supplies and guiding those trapped in muddy, swirling waters, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Authorities put the enormous Three Gorges hydroelectric project on alert as flood crests passed through the swollen Yangtze River and more rains were forecast, Xinhua said.
Every summer, seasonal rains wreak havoc across much of China, especially along the flood-prone Yangtze and Huai rivers, where millions of people have settled.
Xinhua said 89 were killed and 41 were missing in Sichuan, while another 54 fatalities were reported in sprawling Chongqing municipality, upstream from the Three Gorges. Some 16 people were missing in Chongqing, even as some residents in the area’s Kaixian county were being allowed back to their homes, it said.
State-run China Central Television showed footage of people wading through a murky, chest-high deluge, some with children on their shoulders or being towed in plastic washtubs. Others struggled through rushing water, grabbing onto ropes so that they wouldn’t be swept away.
Buildings in shambles
Streets that weren’t under water were covered in rubbish and debris; buildings were in shambles. Scores of emergency workers were shown unloading cases of bottled water in a warehouse, while uniformed soldiers guided boats filled with huddled residents to safety.
“The great needs are to ensure there is sufficient shelter and to get food in and to get in necessary medicine,” said John Sparrow, regional information director for the Red Cross.
More than 3,000 people left homeless by the flooding were sheltering in schools and government buildings, and rescuers were handing out quilts, medicine, bottled water and instant noodles, Xinhua said.
Medical teams were sent to Kaixian county to help prevent disease outbreaks after 100,000 people there were left without safe drinking water, it said.
Flooding losses were initially estimated at $470 million, Xinhua said, with the greatest damage caused by landslides and flash floods sweeping through mountain valleys.
The central government has allocated about $5 million in relief funds to the region, Xinhua said. Another $600,000 was set aside by the Sichuan government for Dazhou, its hardest-hit town where 46 of the deaths occurred, according to CCTV.
In a separate report, Xinhua said heavy rains on Tuesday caused a mudslide that killed one person and left five missing in Lijiang, a town in Yunnan province south of Sichuan.
The halt to navigation on the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric project, was the first since the dam was reopened to river traffic in June 2003, the reports said.
The project, which required 1.3 million people to relocate, has been touted by authorities as a means of stemming flooding along the Yangtze.
Efforts to help flood victims in Sichuan and Chongqing will continue until the danger level has dropped, Sparrow said.
“I don’t think we should say the worst is over,” he said. “As long as it rains and as long as the forecast is telling us there could be more rain, there is no reason to ease up on the operation.”