Record rain drenches China as rivers threaten to burst

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Relentless rains were swelling rivers to record levels in south and central China on Saturday as the nation braced for more flood-related disasters that have already taken the lives of 235 people.

Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei warned regional officials that their jobs were at stake if they failed to protect people from the effects of the deluge, his ministry said on its website.

"We must fully bring into play our monitoring and alert system and immediately announce disaster forecasts and thoroughly implement contingency plans and measures to avert mass disaster," Chen said in a Friday meeting.

Workers and soldiers in central China's Hunan province meanwhile scrambled to shore up dykes as water reached record levels along the Xiang river as it passed through Changsha city, where over six million people live.

After the Xiang surpassed danger marks by 2.5 meters (eight feet) Friday -- the highest water level in a decade -- flood prevention experts were bracing for "historic highs" on the river in coming days, China National Radio said.

In the heart of Changsha, Zhuzizhou island, a famed tourist spot immortalized in a poem by revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, was largely submerged by the swollen Xiang, it said.

Television footage showed small towns and rural areas upriver from Changsha deluged with water as residents evacuated low-lying areas and scrambled to higher ground carting food and other supplies.

At least 235 people have died and 109 were missing in flooding and landslides triggered by torrential rains that have pounded south and central China since June 13, the civil affairs ministry said.

The rains have caused 53 billion yuan (US$7.8 billion) in economic losses, with over three million people forced to evacuate, it said.

According to the national meteorological centre, rains continued to fall Saturday on the hard-hit provinces and regions of Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi.

The Southern Daily said over 600 millimeters (24 inches) of rain fell in Guangdong's Huilai county over a six-hour period on Friday, a 500-year record.

Waters on the Han, Beijiang and Xijiang rivers in Guangdong all exceeded the danger warnings, the report said, forcing the evacuation of 67,000 people.

"We must prevent areas from becoming water-logged and quickly evacuate those people in inundated areas," the paper quoted Guangdong governor Huang Huahua as saying.

"All cities in eastern Guangdong must step up prevention work and prepare for more torrential rains."

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