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China's peasant army bracing for flood surge

A man watches floodwaters rise in a warehouse near the Dongting Lake waterfront at Yueyang, in China's central Hunan
A man watches floodwaters rise in a warehouse near the Dongting Lake waterfront at Yueyang, in China's central Hunan  

Staff and wires

BEIJING, China -- A peasant army of Chinese floodfighters plugged leaks on Saturday in the vast network of dykes preventing the brim full Dongting Lake swamping the homes of millions as a flood crest bore down on them.

The swollen Yangtze River is putting pressure on the hundreds of kilometers of shoreline along the lake in central China where water levels are rising by a centimeter an hour, flood officials told CNN.

On another hot and sunny summer's day that belied the dramatic battle against a lake the size of Luxembourg, huge squads of farmers tossed sandbags, rocks and soil into leaks to prevent them becoming breaches.

But flood control officials said they had issued another warning to people in areas most at danger to be ready to flee at a moment's notice with the flood crest driving down the Yangtze River due to surge into the lake on Sunday morning.

"We told people in some places to be on alert and make preparations to move out if the dykes break," one official was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

CNN's Jaime FlorCruz reports that just 800 of the thousands that live close to the lake are still waiting to be evacuated from the edges of the lake
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More than 800,000 emergency workers, including soldiers and volunteers have been mobilized to help buttress the levees and dikes with sandbags, and organize the evacuation of residents near the lake.

Tens of thousands of people have already been evacuated, and emergency officials have said as many as 130 dikes and levees around the 1,116-mile (1,800 km) beachline are in danger of breaching.

The forecast is dry until Tuesday, according Chinese meteorological officials, when medium to heavy rainfall is anticipated.

But a spokeswoman said the water level around the lake could still rise because of a backlog of high water levels from torrential rains earlier in the month.

'No mistakes'

State papers on Friday carried a statement by Vice-Premier Wen Jiabao, saying all officials should do their utmost to "protect the life and security of the masses and to resolutely ensure that not a single mistake is made."

Meanwhile, Xinhua reported that 14 officials in Hunan had been punished for critical mistakes, including failing to deploy workers to man dangerous dykes.

Since the flooding began in the early spring, authorities have imposed a rigorous responsibility system whereby local officials are personally held responsible for the safety of areas under their jurisdiction.

The safety and livelihood of up to 10 million people could be affected should a massive spill over from the lake occur.

Hunan officials cleared roads earlier in the week that so relief goods for those driven from their homes can get through.

There have been no reports of deaths from the current flooding around Dongting Lake, but more than 900 have been killed in flooding since China's rainy season began three months ago

Residents of a district in Hanoi make their way home along a flooded street  

Heavy rains have swamped Hunan province since early August, with more rain following Tropical Storm Vongfong which swept through the region last week.

The storm spread rain northward and westward over the provinces of Guandong, Yunnan and Guangxi, which lie just north of Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

Other provinces and cities along the Yangtze and its tributaries are also deploying more resources to repair and strengthen embankments.

State-run CCTV reported on Friday that water levels in the Jiuqiang River in Jiangxi Province was sitting above the danger level, and in the industrial center of Wuhan, in Hubei province levels had passed the warning mark of 27.3 meters.

-- CNN Correspondent Lisa Rose Weaver contributed to this report


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