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Chinese Premier Says Flood Control at 'Crucial Stage'

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has called for officials to prepare for "more serious floods and disasters" as China deals with it worst flooding in a decade.

The official Xinhua news agency reported his comments Saturday. They quoted Mr. Wen as saying China's flood control efforts are at a "crucial stage."

Forecasters are predicting still more rain, as the Yangtze River remains near record flood levels.

The government said water levels at the Three Gorges Dam, which helps control the Yangtze, are about 17 meters below its maximum level of 175 meters.

More than 700 people have been killed and more than 300 others are missing due to severe flooding and landslides triggered by torrential rains.

The disaster has caused nearly $21 billion in direct economic losses, including the loss of more than 645,000 houses.

The casualties are still far below the totals in 1998, when flooding on the Yangtze killed 4,150 people and forced the evacuation of 18 million others.

The Chinese government pushed the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in the 1990s, citing its capacity for massive clean energy generation and flood control. But opponents said the project would hurt the environment and cause suffering to more than a million people who had to be moved for the construction.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.