Thousands evacuated as China struggles with downpours

More than 250,000 people have been evacuated in China's northeast, as floods increase the nearly 3,900 dead and missing persons this year.

epa02295714 A photograph made available on 22 August 2010 shows a man standing on a heavily flooded street  as a public bus drives by, in Shenyang, China's North East Liaoning province on 21 August 2010. Chinese media has reported four deaths after Liaoning province was hit by torrential rains, causing China's North Eastern Yalu River, which borders North Korea, to overflow. Over 64,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes 21 August, as waters did not recede.  EPA/MARK

More than 250,000 people have been evacuated in northeast China following serious floods that have already left four dead and forced the relocation of thousands in neighbouring North Korea. Heavy summer downpours have dangerously swollen the Yalu river, which forms the border between the two countries, and forecasters are warning of yet more torrential rain to come. Chinese officials said Sunday that 253,000 people had been evacuated in Liaoning province in less than 24 hours due to the rains, as the nation struggles with its worst floods in a decade.

In Dandong city alone, which borders North Korea, more than 94,000 residents were evacuated and some power and transport links were cut off, the official Xinhua news agency reported. A couple in their 70s and a mother and son died in Kuandian county, around 100 kilometres northeast of Dandong, when flash floods swept away their homes, Xinhua said, citing a local flood control official.

A 60-year-old man was also missing in Kuandian after his house collapsed in a rain-triggered landslide, but no new casualites were reported on Sunday. At one stage on Saturday water levels at a Dandong monitoring station rose to 2.5 metres above the warning line, the second highest since records began in 1934, according to Xinhua. Photos showed helicopters airlifting people from damaged rooftops as grey water swirled around buildings.

China's national meteorological centre warned Sunday that new downpours were expected in parts of Liaoning, including Dandong, for another 24 hours at least. In neighbouring North Korea, more than 5,000 people have been moved to safety after parts of Sinuiju city and rural communities near the border were "completely inundated", the official Korean Central News Agency said. Traffic in downtown Sinuiju was "paralysed" and flood victims were stranded on rooftops and on hills, prompting the North's leader Kim Jong-Il to order an emergency military rescue operation, it added.

The impoverished state has been hit by widespread flooding this summer, which has washed away homes, roads, railways and farmland, causing an unspecified number of deaths, according to state media reports from Pyongyang. After decades of deforestation, North Korea is particularly vulnerable to flooding. In 2007, it reported at least 600 people dead or missing from devastating floods. Nearly 3,900 Chinese have been killed or left missing this year in flood-related incidents, official figures show.

In the northwestern province of Gansu, a torrent of mud on August 7 slammed into homes in the remote town of Zhouqu, leaving at least 1,435 people dead and another 330 missing. Authorities there have now banned local residents from continuing to search for their missing loved ones to prevent an outbreak of disease, Xinhua reported. "The bodies have begun to rot after being buried for two weeks. Searching the debris risks an epidemic outbreak," a local government spokesman was quoted as saying.

In the southwestern province of Yunnan, rescuers are searching for 63 people who went missing in rain-triggered mudslides in a remote mountainous area. Twenty-nine people have been confirmed dead, Xinhua said in a separate report. Heavy rains and bad road conditions there have hampered rescue work, and the chances of finding any survivors are slim, it added. * AFP