BEIJING (AFP) — China ordered emergency work to strengthen swollen dykes and reservoirs Tuesday and evacuated tens of thousands of people as large swathes of the south reeled under their worst storms in decades.
Officials said more than 40 rivers nationwide were exceeding their warning levels with torrential rain continuing to pound the densely populated region.
The civil affairs ministry said the death toll in nine southern provinces and regions had reached 63 Tuesday, with 13 missing, since the latest bout of rains began pummelling the area in early June.
However, state-run Xinhua news agency said the flooding could have resulted in more than 200 dead or missing, citing the National Meteorological Centre. The centre declined comment when contacted by AFP.
"We must remain clear-headed and not under-estimate the serious nature of the current flood and disaster situation," Vice Premier Hui Liangyu said, in comments on the website of the state flood prevention headquarters.
In the prosperous Pearl River Delta region, parts of central Guangzhou and Shenzhen were under water and some of the tributaries were seeing their worst floods on record.
The China Daily quoted the civil affairs ministry as saying the storms and floods were the worst in decades.
Officials also warned that the north could fall victim to the freak weather patterns.
More than 1.66 million people have been evacuated in the hardest-hit areas, with large swathes of farmland under water and economic losses totalling 14.5 billion yuan (2.1 billion dollars), the civil affairs ministry said.
Vice Premier Hui ordered the immediate evacuation of people in danger areas and the strengthening of river dykes and reservoirs.
"We have to limit the loss of life and property to the lowest extent possible," Hui said. "We cannot underestimate the arduous nature of fighting the flooding and warding off disaster."
According to the flood headquarters, waters exceeded warning levels by 6.8 metres (22 feet) on the Xijiang river in Guangxi's Wuzhou city, where three rivers meet before flowing down into the Pearl River delta.
Rains were expected to continue in the region this week.
Guangxi's world-famous tourist city of Guilin was also under threat, while waters in towns and villages in the vicinity had reached the rooftops and many roads were cut off by rising flood waters or rain-induced landslides.
In inland provinces such as Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi and Sichuan, rains were also forecast to continue throughout the week, ensuring that downstream rivers would remain high, the state meteorological bureau said.
In the north, the government urged the bolstering of dykes and reservoirs along the Yellow River, known as the "cradle of Chinese civilisation" and home to millions of urban dwellers and farmers.
"National flood prevention and relief efforts are entering a crucial phase," the flood headquarters said in a statement.
"According to the water and meteorological departments, we could be seeing torrential rains and flooding along the Yellow River."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao ordered an increase in efforts to prevent rain-induced landslides in Sichuan province, where an 8.0-magnitude earthquake in mid-May left 87,000 dead or missing and millions homeless.
"As aftershocks continue to hit and as rains markedly increase at the start of the rainy season, we must pay close attention," Wen said.
Up to 70,000 people at the quake's epicentre in Wenchuan county have been evacuated in recent days from mountainous areas which are at risk of rockslips and landslides, state press said.
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