Sunday, July 31, 2011

China hit by floods

China Reels From Deadliest Flooding in a Decade

AOL News

(July 22) -- China's deadliest flooding in a decade has officials scrambling to respond and has sparked concern about the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam and China's many overtaxed reservoirs.

Flooding, downpours and landslides have hit more than half of China's 22 provinces, and so far this year more than 700 people have been killed, with several hundred more missing.

"What's different about this rainfall is that it's very concentrated in the areas that it has hit, and it has fallen in a short period of time," Kuang Yaoqiu, a professor at the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, told the Los Angeles Times. "That's why in some areas and rivers the amount of rain has reached historic levels."

The scientist blamed the flooding on low sea temperatures brought by La Nina and predicted heavy rains would continue through August, the Times said.

La Nina refers to a pattern of cooler than normal waters in the Pacific Ocean that "recur every few years and can persist for as long as two years," according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fact sheet.

So far, some 110 million people have been affected by China's flooding, with 645,000 houses collapsed, shipping locks closed and waters higher than warning levels in 230 rivers and at historic highs in two dozen rivers, according to agency reports.

Damages are estimated at $21 billion, according to EastDay.

The Yangcheng Evening News reported Wednesday that one Sichuan Province stretch of the Yangtze River basin was experiencing the biggest floods in 163 years.

East Asia's typhoon season has just begun, meaning the flooding may get worse. Tropical storm Chanthu was expected to make landfall in southern China today.

Chinese media reported a water commission official forecasting another flood surge next week, but said some 350,000 people had been mobilized to patrol dikes and other water-control measures all along the Yangtze River basin.

"The situation is grave," China's State Council said Wednesday, according to EastDay.

Chinese officials are saying the controversial $24 billion Three Gorges Dam has been key in reducing casualties and damage this time around, since it gives authorities greater control over the amount and speed of water released downstream into the Yangtze River basin. The dam's construction was completed last year.

Liu Ning, vice minister of water resources, told CNN and other media that the dam successfully contained floodwater that hit at speeds of 70,000 cubic meters per second early this week, which he said was 20,000 cubic meters per second more than the 1998 flooding.

"The Three Gorges Dam is instrumental in our flood control efforts," Liu said. ""We are able to control the outward flow of floodwater as it goes downstream."

Floodwaters crested over the massive dam on Tuesday morning, showing the extent of the water rise.

Liu said China has also completed another 29 water control projects since 1998's disaster.

But some Chinese are skeptical. One viral blog post translated at Chinasmack compares media headlines from 2003 to the present, showing less and less confidence in the dam's capabilities.

"Three Gorges Dam impenetrable; can withstand a once-in-10,000-year flood," reads a headline from 2003. A headline from 2007 rolls that back to "can withstand a once-in-1,000-year flood," and by 2008 another headline cites a "once-in-100-year" flood.

The latest headline, from this year: "Yangtze Water Resources Commission: We can't put all of our hopes in the Three Gorges Dam."

An opinion piece in Southern Network quoted an unnamed Three Gorges Dam official who responded that the dam's flood control abilities hadn't changed. "The media took a different view at different times," the official said.

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