China’s Mighty Yangtze Nears Crest Again, New Floods Feared

July 17, 2020 Updated: July 17, 2020

BEIJING—Engorged with more heavy rains, China’s mighty Yangtze River is cresting again, bringing fears of further destruction, as the seasonal floods that already have left 141 people dead or missing have grown in force since last month.

The heavy rains are putting renewed pressure on the massive Three Gorges Dam that straddles the river upstream of the city of Wuhan in Hubei province.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the rate of flow in the reservoir behind the dam would hit a record for the year on Friday night, at 55,000 square meters (almost 600,000 square feet) per second.

Rivers in the Yangtze system have broken their banks in places, and in Hubei, a helicopter was used to drop stones into the breach to block the inrushing waters.

Crews were dispatched with poles to probe waterlogged embankments for weakness and thousands of sandbags were being filled in preparation for more breaches that would need to be swiftly closed.

Water rose to the level of first-floor windows in exposed ancient towns and crops were completely inundated around the vast Poyang Lake, a network of waterways that empty into the Yangtze below Wuhan.

On the lake’s eastern edge in Jiangxi province, 45-year-old Xu Yongxiang said his village of Liufang had been without running water or electricity for almost a week. Although it was time for the rice harvest, that crop, along with cotton, corn, and beans was now underwater.

“We do not have one inch of dry ground. It has all been flooded,” Xu, who sells pork for a living, was quoted as saying on the official newspaper China Youth Daily’s microblog.

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A woman pushes a makeshift raft down a flooded alleyway in a village in Yongxiu in central eastern China’s Jiangxi province, on July 16, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)

Flooding since the beginning of the month has forced evacuations of around 1.8 million people in 24 provinces, mainly in southern China. Direct losses attributed to flooding are estimated at more than 49 billion yuan ($7 billion), according to the Ministry of Emergency Management.

Floodwaters reached as high as 1.4 meters (almost 5 feet) in Linshui county in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the ministry’s rescue department reported.

Torrential rain also caused three landslides Thursday in a town in mountainous Chongqing, upstream on the Yangtze, causing three deaths and leaving three more missing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Seasonal flooding strikes large parts of China each year, especially in its central and southern regions, but conditions this year have been especially bad. Major cities have thus far been spared but concerns have risen over Wuhan and other downstream metropolises that are home to tens of millions of people.

China’s worst floods in recent years were in 1998, when more than 2,000 people died and almost 3 million homes were destroyed, mostly along the Yangtze.

The Three Gorges Dam was built mainly to generate electricity, but the government also said it was expected to mitigate catastrophic flooding.