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Sunday, August 9, 1998 Published at 03:26 GMT 04:26 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China facing Yangtze disaster

Soldiers attempt to shore up defences in Jiujiang

An estimated 500,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in China's central Hubei province after severe flooding there.

Duncan Hewitt reports on the "life or death battle" in China
Officials are now planning to blow up dykes along the Yangtze River to divert the water.

Since the flooding began, more than 14 million people across the country have been forced to leave their homes.

The government and aid agencies are struggling to provide people with basic necessities.

The Chinese airforce has been called on to drop supplies to the most inaccessible areas.

With further major flooding threatened, some 30,000 people are working to repair a breach in the main Yangtze River dyke at the city of Jiujiang in Jiangxi province.

Duncan Hewitt, reporting from Beijing: "There is no sign of any end in sight"
Officials say eight boats and thousands of tonnes of stones have now been sunk into the breach, initially measuring some 40 metres across, in an attempt to plug the gap.

The official Xinhua news agency says the operation was hampered when one boat lost control, knocking down more of the dyke.

But the local authorities have denied reports of casualties resulting from the accident.

Situation 'under control'

Following reports of shortages of rocks, the provincial government issued an emergency order for 30 truckloads to be delivered to the area.

Local officials said China's Deputy Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, had returned to the city to oversee operations.

The officials say they believe the situation in Jiujiang is basically under control, and floodwaters have not reached the city centre.

Upstream, in Hubei province, officials say they have still not decided whether to open the floodgates at the major flood diversion project in Gongan county.

They say water levels were falling in the area after several secondary embankments collapsed, lowering pressure on the main dykes.

But elsewhere in the province, water levels remain at historic highs, and officials say the danger was far from over.

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