China blows up dam to release floodwaters as death toll rises

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BEIJING – Authorities in central China blew up a dam on Sunday to release rising waters behind it amid widespread flooding across the country that has left dozens dead. State broadcaster CCTV reported that the dam on the Chuhe River in Anhui Province was destroyed with explosives early Sunday morning, after which the water level is expected to drop by 70 centimeters (more than 2 feet).

Water levels on many rivers, including the mighty Yangtze, have been exceptionally high this year due to torrential rain.

Blasting dams and dikes to remove water was an extreme response used during the worst floods in China in recent years in 1998, when more than 2,000 people died and nearly 3 million homes were destroyed.

Last week, the gigantic Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River opened three gates as the water level behind the huge dam rose more than 15 meters (50 feet) above the flood level. Another crest of flood is expected to arrive at the dam on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, soldiers and workers tested the strength of the embankments and supported them with sandbags and rocks. On Saturday, firefighters and others finished filling a 188-meter (620-foot) break on Lake Poyang, China’s largest freshwater lake, which caused widespread flooding in 15 villages and agricultural fields in Jiangxi Province. More than 14,000 people were evacuated.

Seasonal floods hit large parts of China every year, particularly in its central and southern regions, but were particularly severe this summer. More than 150 people have died or are missing in the floods and landslides caused by the torrential rains – 23 of them since Thursday alone.

About 1.8 million people have been evacuated and direct losses from the floods are estimated at more than 49 billion yuan ($ 7 billion), according to the Emergency Management Ministry.

Large cities have been spared so far, but concern has grown over Wuhan and other downstream cities that are home to tens of millions of people.

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