China blasts dam to release floodwaters, 1.8m evacuated

Updated 20 Jul 2020

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Last week, the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze opened three floodgates as the water level behind the massive dam rose more than 15 metres above flood level. — AP
Last week, the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze opened three floodgates as the water level behind the massive dam rose more than 15 metres above flood level. — AP

BEIJING: Authorities in central China blasted a dam on Sunday to release surging waters behind it amid widespread flooding across the country that has claimed scores of lives.

State broadcaster CCTV reported the dam on the Chuhe River in Anhui province was destroyed with explosives early on Sunday morning, after which the water level was expected to drop by 70 centimeters (more than 2 feet).

Water levels on many rivers, including the mighty Yangtze, have been unusually high this year because of torrential rains.

Blasting dams and emba­nkments to discharge water was an extreme response emp­loyed during China’s worst floods in recent years in 1998, when more than 2,000 people died and almost 3 million homes were destroyed.

Last week, the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze opened three floodgates as the water level behind the massive dam rose more than 15 metres (50 feet) above flood level. Another flood crest is expected to arrive at the dam on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, soldiers and workers have been testing the strength of embankments and shoring them up with sandbags and rocks. On Saturday, firefighters and others finished filling in a 188-meter (620-foot) break on Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, that had caused widespread flooding across 15 villages and agricultural fields in Jiangxi province. More than 14,000 people were evacuated.

Seasonal flooding strikes large parts of China annually, especially in its central and southern regions, but has been especially severe this summer. More than 150 people have died or are missing in flooding and landslides brought on by the torrential rains 23 of them since Thursday alone.

About 1.8 million people have been evacuated and direct losses attributed to flooding are estimated at more than 49 billion yuan ($7 billion), according to the Ministry of Emergency Management.

Major cities have been spared so far, but concern has risen over Wuhan and other downstream metropolises that are home to tens of millions of people.China raised the flood alert level in the Huai River region in the country’s east to Level II from Level III, the second highest on its four-tier scale, after days of torrential downpours and amid expectations of further heavy rainfall.

Ten reservoirs on the Huai River have seen water levels exceeding warning levels by as much as 6.85 metres, according to the Huaihe River Commission of China’s Ministry of Water Resources.

The 1,000km (620 mile) Huai River flows through major agriculture and manufacturing hubs in Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. Torrential rains have battered China for two weeks from Chongqing in the southwest to Shanghai on the east coast.

Several regions alongside the Yangtze River, including Wuhan city in Hubei province and in Jiangxi province, where China’s largest freshwater lake is located, decl­ared the highest flood alerts.

“Floods are occurring at the same time at the Yantze River, Huai River and Tai Lake...The flood prevention situation is very severe,” the water resources ministry said. Water levels in the region were likely to exceed the maximum level that reservoirs can withstand, the ministry added.

At Lake Tai, on the border of the wealthy coastal provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, water levels have already risen above the safety guaranteed level, according to government data.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2020