On the night of June 21 the Fuhe River, Jiangxi's second largest, burst its banks due to days of heavy rainfall. The local flood control office said the opening in the dike expanded to 400 meters the next day. More than 90,000 people affected by flood waters were evacuated. The floods are the worst for 50 years and over 25 million people have been affected, according to the local government.
Hui Liangyu, Chinese Vice Premier and Director of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (shortened as Flood Control Headquarters), ordered the evacuation of locals from the area and emergency measures began.
According to figures from the headquarters, heavy flooding in southern provinces had claimed 365 lives by June 24. An additional 147 are missing and 59.85 million people have been affected. The economic loss was approximately 70.9 billion yuan ($10.4 billion). The figures are on the rise.
Most casualties were due to landslides, mudflows and mountain flash floods caused the pounding rain. By midnight June 22, a total of 2.4 million people living alongside waterways were taken to safe areas while 763,000 houses were swept away or damaged by the flooding. The agricultural sector in the south was heavily impacted, as 3.76 million hectares of farmland were destroyed by storms.
The southern part of China is densely populated with the most robust economic growth. Officials said 70 percent of damage caused by the floods in China was in the south.
At 10 p.m. on June 21, Flood Control Headquarters raised the flood emergency response to level two from three, and dispatched seven expert groups to the south to oversee flood control.
To relieve flooding in Jiangxi, the headquarters sent 1,630 rescue boats to the province along with 1,700 portable risk-detection lights and 5,000 life jackets. The air force also sent five helicopters.
Flood Control Headquarters said the Central Government had appropriated 1.29 billion yuan ($189 million) by June 22 to the provinces that had been hit by the flooding.
In spite of the enormous toll, experts believed the damage caused by the floods is less than that of drought or extreme cold, said Li Guoxiang, an agricultural expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In 1998, when the south suffered from the biggest flood in history, the record high for grain output was reached.
In an interview with the People's Daily, Zhang Zhitong, Deputy Director of Flood Control Headquarters, said there would be six to eight typhoons hitting the mainland this year and warned they may cause even more damage.
Experts say the southern part of the Huaihe River in central China has entered its major flood season, and the northern part of the country will follow suit.
A HELPING HAND: Armed police in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region help people of Yao ethnic group build up tents on June 19 for those who lost their homes (XINHUA)
At the outset of the flood season, the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River in south China took in more water from the upper reaches than previous years. Meanwhile, the water level at Yangtze River is 1 meter higher than average.
To date, more than 110 rivers have risen above their alert levels. Zhang said it's likely the major rivers of south China will swell to cause massive flooding if the storms continue.
The southwestern part of China suffered from a severe 200-day drought ending in April. The dry weather frizzled the soil, which became less viscous. The stones cracked. After such a long drought, soil and stones can easily be washed away, leading to disastrous mudflows.
AGAINST ALL ODDS: Students attending the national college entrance examinations in Xupu County of Hunan Province take boats guarded by soldiers to their exam rooms (WANG JIYUN)
Ever since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the central and local governments have been striving to build up a concrete fortress to guard against floods and droughts that frequently visit the country.
Huge dams have been built alongside major riverbanks. However, flood control projects in medium- and small-sized rivers are far from sufficient, especially for defense against landslides and mudflows, said Zhang.
Making things worse is a lot of people in rural areas live along mountainsides or at the foot of mountains. Landslides can easily destroy their property no matter how rarely they occur.
The recent floods in cities in the south have also threatened the aging drainage system.
"It seems to me that our country has been coping with floods every year, but why are we having the same problems year after year?" said Xu Qing, a Guangzhou resident, adding "you cannot blame global warming all the time."
"When it comes to floods, people will immediately think of rural and mountainous areas while ignoring the potential damages it might cause to cities," said Shan Chunchang, head of the State Council emergency management expert group at a recent forum on the future of the city.
Guangzhou City, capital of Guangdong, the economic powerhouse of south China, was flooded twice in May. More than 13,000 cars were submerged resulting in more than 100 million yuan ($14.6 million) in insurance claims, Nanfang Daily reported. Underground garages were the hardest hit. In other cities cars, homes and shops were also consumed by floodwaters.
Shan questioned the drainage systems in cities and said they have invested too much aboveground and too little underground.
"All architecture must have emergency entrances and exits for when floods occur," said Ni Yang, Deputy Dean of the Architectural Design Research Institute of the South China University of Technology.
Ni said many domestic architects lack the experience in designing structures that can cope with natural disasters. Unlike foreign parking lots, many Guangzhou garages do not have drainpipes or water pumps installed.
Zhou Yuwen, professor at the Beijing University of Technology and a drainage system expert, said the urban areas are getting larger and gradually taking up rivers and wetlands, which can absorb more water. "The permeable soil has been replaced by concrete," said Zhou.
According to experts, the more prosperous the city becomes, the more it must invest in underground infrastructure like its drainage system. Economic achievements must go side by side with advances in infrastructure. I