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Sunday, 25 August, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Flood surge heads for Wuhan
Residents survey Lake Dongting
The water level did not reach the disastrous 1998 mark
The 7.5 million people of the central Chinese city of Wuhan are bracing themselves for the peak of a flood surge from the Yangtze River.

Water levels in Lake Dongting - 180 kilometres (120 miles) upstream - were slowly receding on Sunday, but Wuhan officials feared their city could become the next danger zone as the flood peak rolled its way.

The Hubei provincial capital has declared a state of emergency and should see water levels reach a peak in the early hours of Monday.

Levels on Sunday were already 15cm above the danger point.

Mammoth effort

However, although they expected some flooding, the officials believed there would be no repeat of the 1998 disaster in which some 4,000 people lost their lives.


If it doesn't rain for the next three days around Lake Dongting and the Yangtze river the water will continue to fall

Zhang Huaiqiu
lake monitor

At Lake Dongting, many still fear that new rainfall could rapidly overcome the mammoth effort to contain the lake, even though measurements showed an overnight fall of two centimetres.

"If it doesn't rain for the next three days around Lake Dongting and the Yangtze river the water will continue to fall," said an official at a lakeside monitoring station, Zhang Huaiqiu.

After Wuhan, the flood crest will reach Lake Poyang - not much smaller than Dongting - which is already 1.10 metres above danger level.

Continuing threat

Millions of people have been threatened by the potential deluge in Hunan Province - one of China's most densely populated regions - and 600,000 residents have been evacuated.

Enlarge image
Enlarge image

Areas at risk of flooding
Mr Zhang reported that the water level had peaked on Saturday at 34.75 metres at 23:00 (15:00 GMT) but by 08:30 on Sunday it was down to 34.73.

During the flood disaster of 1998 the level was over a metre higher at 35.94.

One woman who lives near the lake, Liu Susen, said: ''I was scared to death when the water rose. In 1995 and 1996, the water totally flooded the dyke and destroyed our house. This time it came right to the edge and then stopped there and went back down."

Despite the encouraging fall, Mr Zhang and other officials warned that even moderate rainfall could overturn the work of emergency workers who have been working flat out to fortify dykes.

Bitter experience

About a million people have been mobilised to help protect the dykes.

Soldiers and civilians patrol the dykes and flood defences around the clock, blocking leaks with sandbags, rocks and soil.

A woman looks out over a flooded building from a balcony in Huarong, Hunan Province
About 600,000 people have been evacuated in Hunan province
State media say 27,000 houses have collapsed and 415,000 hectares (one million acres) of crops have been damaged in Hunan, China's top rice-growing province.

But the dykes are much stronger there since the floods of 1998.

Hunan spent more than $1bn on reinforcing embankments, moving 350,000 farmers and planting trees.

The controversial Three Gorges Dam now under construction upstream is meant to bring the Yangtze under control, but that will not be finished until 2009.

According to environmentalists, the repeated floods in the Yangtze region are the result of China's degraded environment.

Across China this summer, more than 900 people have died in floods and landslides.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing
"The flood defences around Wuhan are very good"
Dr Andrew Marton of the Institute of Chinese studies
"It's getting worse because of a number of complex problems"
See also:

24 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
18 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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