China vows to protect coronavirus-hit Hubei as dozens killed by floods and rainstorms

Submerged streets and inundated buildings are seen after heavy rain caused flooding in Yangshuo, on June 7, 2020.
Submerged streets and inundated buildings are seen after heavy rain caused flooding in Yangshuo, on June 7, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - China on Thursday (June 11) said it would spare no effort to ensure the novel coronavirus epicentre of Hubei province was well protected from 
flooding this summer, amid warnings that heavier-than-usual rain could cause widespread damage. 

Floods and mudslides in south China have uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and left dozens dead or missing, state media reported on Thursday.

The bad weather has wreaked havoc on popular tourist areas that had already been battered by months of travel restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Water levels in 148 rivers in China have risen above warning thresholds, Vice-Minister of Water Resources Ye Jianchun told a news conference in Beijing, with nationwide rainfall 6 per cent higher than the average for the same period in previous years. 

The mayor of Hubei’s provincial capital, Wuhan, which is at the confluence of the Yangtze and Han rivers in central China and saw the first reported novel coronavirus cases last year, warned in March of the need to prepare for floods. 

“No matter what the situation, we will pay special attention to the flood control work of Hubei,” Mr Ye said.  “And we hope that after all efforts, Hubei will not have problems in flood control and the people of Hubei will not be made to suffer any more.”

Noting that there are many rivers and lakes in Hubei, where the novel coronavirus has killed more than 4,500 people, Mr Ye said flood control in the province would be a “very heavy” task even without the epidemic. 

The challenge was even greater this year because the epidemic has coincided with the usual preparation period, he added. 

Nevertheless, Mr Ye said his department had been working on flood control in Hubei since February and the province had done a good job under difficult circumstances. 

Hubei will speed up renovation work on buildings previously damaged in floods and eliminate potential hazards, Mr Ye said, assuring that the authorities would be “targeted” and“meticulous” in their monitoring of rainfall. 

Torrential downpours in recent days have unleashed floods and mudslides that caused nearly 230,000 people to be relocated and destroyed more than 1,300 houses, official state news agency Xinhua reported on Thursday, citing the Ministry of Emergency Management.

In southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, six people were reported dead and one missing, Xinhua said.

Streets were waterlogged in popular tourist destination Yangshuo, forcing residents and visitors to evacuate on bamboo rafts.

The local government said more than 1,000 hotels had been flooded and more than 30 tourist sites damaged.

One owner of a family-run hotel told Xinhua that the guest rooms were submerged in one metre of rainwater.

The extreme weather has dealt a hefty blow to the region's tourism sector, which is still reeling from the Covid-19 epidemic.

The emergency management ministry said there were direct economic losses of over 4 billion yuan (S$760 million) from the flooding, Xinhua reported.

In Hunan Province, at least 13 people were killed in rain-triggered disasters, and another eight people are missing or killed in southwestern Guizhou province, according to the local emergency response departments, Xinhua said.

The heavy downpours began at the beginning of June and have led to "dangerously high water levels" in 110 rivers, Xinhua reported.

Further rainstorms are expected in the next few days across the south.