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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Chinese battle to stop lake bursting
Chinese woman at Lake Dongting
Millions are at risk as waters rise
Almost a million people are working around the clock to stop China's second largest freshwater lake from flooding and threatening millions of people.

Some 850,000 civilians and soldiers have mobilised to shore up dykes and embankments of Lake Dongting, in the southern province of Hunan.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image

Areas at risk of flooding

More than 1,000 families have been evacuated from the area.

The last time Dongting flooded seriously, in 1998, some 4,000 people lost their lives.

Over the past day the weather has been clear and sunny but the waters are expected to continue rising - the level has gone up by half a metre (1.64 feet) in 24 hours.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, who is at the lake, says there are fears water could seep through and experienced watchmen have been deployed to observe the dykes.

The International Red Cross has issued an urgent alert to donors to prepare for an emergency as the lake was "like a balloon of water" about to burst.

China's summer floods have already killed more than 900 people, prompting warnings from government officials that they could be more deadly than in 1998.


Officials have declared a state of emergency in Hunan province.

There is a constant stream of trucks transporting material to be used in sandbags to shore up Donkting's defences.

Local flood monitors sit at a distance of 100 metres on the tops of the dykes, watching for signs of weakening.

Dongting covers an area the size of Luxembourg. It serves as an overflow for the Yangtze river, whose swollen waters pour into the lake after heavy summer rainfall, preventing flooding further downstream.

Chinese troops shore up an embankment
Soldiers are helping reinforce banks
Parts of the city of Yueyang, on the lake's northern shore, are already flooded, with water lapping against the second floors of some buildings. If Dongting burst its banks, flood surges could hit more than seven million people living in nearby Wuhan city, the China Daily newspaper said.

A Red Cross official said the situation could become very serious.

Niels Juel said a formal appeal would be launched for tents, quilts, water purification tablets and food if more people were evacuated.

"One Red Cross person in Hunan compared this to a situation where you have a balloon filled with water and once the balloon bursts, you'll have water everywhere," Mr Juel told AFP news agency.

Peak nearing

Hunan province officials say that Lake Dongting and the rivers that feed it are likely to continue rising for another two days.

"If skies stay clear, the peak is expected to happen around 0800 (0000 GMT) on Sunday," provincial government spokesman Mr Jian said.

But despite the massive emergency effort under way in Hunan and warnings of a possible catastrophe, some local residents remain philosophical.

"I'm not afraid. This is almost an annual event. The water rises and people move away from the lake, and when the water recedes they move back," said Zhang Luoping.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"The danger is far from over"
Niels Juel from the International Red Cross
"The Red Cross is focusing on helping the most vulnerable"
See also:

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