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China Flood Death Toll Rises - 2002-06-26

In China, officials fear the death toll may rise substantially as 300 people are missing in floods that have already taken 543 lives. This year's spring rains came a month early and brought the worst flooding in four years.

Officials say the floods wrecked at least 430,000 homes, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, submerged wide areas of farmland and caused problems for more than 50 million people.

Parts of north China's Shaanxi province were hit by more than 600 millimeters of rain in June, 486 mm on just one day. The floods also hit the central province of Sichuan, the southern province of Fujian and the region of Guizhou.

Wang Zhenyao, director of the Department of Disaster and Social Relief, says 1.4 million people have been evacuated.

He says some of those in danger had to be pulled to safety in the middle of the night by rescuers in boats, who struggled to find their way through darkness and rain.

Chinese officials say these are the worst floods to hit China since 1998, when widespread flooding took 4,000 lives. Since then, China has poured billions of dollars into flood control measures that officials say are helping keep damage in check this time. They also say the worst of the rains covered a smaller area than in 1998, which helped keep the death toll from being even worse.

On most years, the summer rains are generally heaviest in July and August, so more problems are possible. And the current forecast is for more rain.