21 killed, 4 missing as heavy rain hits central China

Paramilitary police officers evacuate residents stranded in floodwaters following heavy rainfall in Hedian, Suizhou, in Hubei province on Aug 12, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - At least 21 people died as heavy downpours struck central China's Hubei province, authorities said on Friday (Aug 13), weeks after record floods wreaked havoc and killed hundreds in a neighbouring province.

China has been battered by unprecedented rains in recent months, extreme weather that experts say is increasingly common due to global warming.

In Hubei, torrential rains caused power cuts and landslides, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing the evacuation of nearly 6,000 people, the province's Emergency Management Bureau said, as reservoirs reach dangerous levels.

"Twenty-one people were killed and four others are missing as heavy rain lashed townships from Wednesday," state broadcaster Xinhua reported on Friday.

Footage showed families wading in water that had risen to almost hip level and carrying essentials in plastic bags in Yicheng, which saw a record 480mm of rain on Thursday. Rescuers carried people to safety on frontloader diggers.

"Yesterday the water levels rose to about two to three metres. My neighbour's house was completely destroyed," a resident from one of the worst affected areas in the city of Suizhou told local media. "We haven't seen so much rain in 20 or 30 years."

Hundreds of firefighters and thousands of police and military have been dispatched to the worst affected areas, China's Ministry of Emergency Management said.

Five cities in Hubei have declared "red alerts" after torrential rain caused power cuts and destroyed homes. Rescue crews have been dispatched to the worst affected areas, including the cities of Suizhou, Xiangyang and Xiaogan.

According to the official China News Service, as many as 774 reservoirs in Hubei had exceeded their flood warning levels by Thursday evening.

Extreme weather in the province has already damaged more than 3,600 houses and 8,110ha of crops, with total losses estimated at 108 million yuan (S$22.6 million), the official China Daily said, citing the province's emergency management bureau.

China regularly experiences flooding during its wet summer months, but the authorities have warned that extreme weather is now becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.

Around 100,000 people were evacuated in the southwestern province of Sichuan last weekend as heavy rains caused several landslides.

More than 300 people were killed in central China's Henan province last month after record downpours dumped a year's worth of rain on a city in three days.

The China Meteorological Administration warned that heavy rainstorms were likely to continue until next week, with regions along the Yangtze river vulnerable to flooding.

State weather forecasters also issued a geological disaster warning late on Thursday, saying that areas at risk include the central provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Henan and Anhui, Chongqing, Sichuan and Guizhou in the southwest as well as Zhejiang on the eastern coast.

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