China is bracing itself for the arrival of its first typhoon this year, which will bring more heavy rain to a country already reeling from its worst floods in decades.
Typhoon Nepartak - packing winds of up to 245kmh - is forecast to make landfall in Taiwan early today, before moving to China's coastal Fujian province tonight or tomorrow morning, said the Chinese meteorological authorities.
Flooding in central, coastal and southern China in the past week has already affected 32 million people in 26 provinces. More than 180 people have died and 45 are missing, while 1.4 million people have been forced to evacuate.
President Xi Jinping has ordered more troops to the affected regions to provide disaster relief, as days of heavy rain raised water in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River above warning levels. About 600,000 people are in urgent need of basic living assistance, state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.
The authorities have blamed the massive floods on an unusually strong El Nino effect, which ended in May after 21 months, the longest period on record.
China Meteorological Administration chief Zheng Guoguang told a press conference last week that since late March - which marked the start of this year's flood season - the country has seen 23 per cent more precipitation than in the same period in previous years.
China's misery could be compounded by Typhoon Nepartak, whose impending arrival has led neighbouring Taiwan to cancel more than 200 flights yesterday, while shutting schools and offices.
Although the typhoon will lose most of its strength by the time it arrives in mainland China, it is still expected to bring strong gales and heavy rainfall over coastal Fujian and Zhejiang provinces.
China's severe flooding in the past week has brought back memories of the major floods in 1998, which affected 223 million people and claimed over 3,000 lives.
But the authorities are hopeful that the impact will not be as severe this time. China has increased its investment in water infrastructure to fight floods since 1998. This includes building the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.
From 1998 to 2002, China invested 17 billion yuan (S$3.4 billion) in such infrastructure, more than 70 per cent of which went towards flood-control measures.
In a visit to the worst-hit areas of Anhui, Hunan and Hubei provinces on Tuesday and Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang said: "We endured the big flood in 1998. Now we have greater ability to ensure the safety of cities during the flood season."
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