China flood fears rise
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Authorities in China are stepping up a massive anti-flood effort, mobilizing tens of thousands of people to shore up the nation's second biggest freshwater lake which threatens to burst its banks and create a disaster worse than the deadly floods of 1998.
More than 80,000 people, including 6,000 soldiers, have been working around the clock to reinforce levees and dikes surrounding the 2,800 square-kilometer (1,070 square-mile) Dongting lake in the central province of Hunan.
Around 10 million people as well as 667,000 hectares (1.6 million acres) of fertile farmland are at risk should the lake spill over.
A state of emergency was declared in Hunan on Wednesday after rising floodwaters pushed the Dongting almost two meters above its 32-meter flood warning mark.
Officials have warned that water levels could match those of 1998 when severe flooding killed 4,000 people and caused widespread damage and economic damage.
The Dongting, which acts as an overflow to the flood-prone Yangtze River, hit a historical high of 35.9 meters.
There have been no reports of deaths from the current flooding around the Dongting, but more than 900 have been killed in flooding since China's monsoon season began three months ago.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from areas close to the lake while emergency officials have said as many as 130 dikes and levees around the beach line are in danger of breaching.
Heavy rain in the area has subsided, allowing emergency workers, soldiers and volunteers to buttress the embankments with sandbags and organize further evacuations.
Yet despite the easing of rain, authorities have warned that four swollen rivers flowing into the Dongting were pushing its waters higher, state media reported.
Officials said they expect the waters to reach a flood crest in coming days as a result of the overflow.
Should the lake burst its banks, then water flowing down the Yangtze could also threaten neighboring Hubei Province and it capital Wuhan.
Located by the Dongting and the Yangtze is Hunan's capital city Changsha -- home to millions of residents and also in serious danger of being hit by floods, the state-run China Daily reported.
More than 850,000 laborers and officials are working throughout the state bolstering flood defenses, the China Daily said. Thousands of soldiers have been dispatched for Yueyang, Yitang, Changde and other cities to fight the floods.
Workers are hoping the current clear weather would give them enough time to support the levees adequately, but it was still unclear whether the levees could hold up in time.
Heavy rains swamped the Hunan province beginning August 11, with a further deluge this weekend when Tropical Storm Vongfong swept through the region.
The storm also spread rain north and westward over the provinces of Guandong, Yunnan and Guangxi in South China, which lie just north of Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
Vongfong hit the coast late Monday, causing widespread damage, traffic chaos and torrential rain.
The storm, the 14th typhoon or tropical storm to hit the Chinese coast this year, destroyed more than 4,000 homes and flooded an estimated 46,000 hectares of crop land, the China Daily reported.
Hundreds of dykes and reservoirs were also demolished or damaged, yet despite the devastation, no deaths were reported.
-- CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.
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