BEIJING – Flooding and mudslides have killed at least 536 people across China (search) in the past two weeks, with more heavy rain forecast in the southern province whose factories are the heart of the country's booming export industries, the government said Friday.
There was no immediate official word on the economic impact of storms forecast for Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong (search) and is China's most populous region with more than 100 million people. But state media said road and railway traffic in some areas was cut, including the main Beijing-Hong Kong railroad.
Some 1.4 million people have been evacuated from a five-province swath of the densely crowded south, while total economic losses were estimated at $2.5 billion, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Nationwide, rain-related deaths were reported in 22 of China's 31 provinces and regions, it said.
In Guangdong (search), at least 48 people have been killed and 120,000 forced to flee their homes, state television reported on its midday news Friday. Roads and rail lines were cut by floodwaters, including the main Beijing-Hong Kong railway, Xinhua said.
So far, most damage in Guangdong appears to be to farms, with export-oriented factories largely unaffected, said Ruby Zhu, China economist for the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.
"It doesn't seem serious now," she said. "But if it gets more serious, we're not sure what will happen in Guangdong province."
Nationwide, a total of 137 people are missing, Xinhua said.
Authorities in Macau, the former Portuguese colony west of Hong Kong at the mouth of the Pearl River, issued a flood warning, saying the rain-swollen river could rise to as much as three feet above normal, Xinhua said.
The death toll was higher than most of the rainy seasons of the past decade, though still below that of 1998, when 4,150 people were killed in summer flooding in central and northeastern China, Xinhua said.
China suffers hundreds of flooding deaths every summer in its south and northeast.
The impact of seasonal rains is magnified by environmental damage from decades of intensive farming and tree-cutting that have left denuded hillsides unable to trap rain. Millions of people live in vulnerable areas on reclaimed former flood plains.
Newspaper photos showed soldiers and police rowing boatloads of residents down flooded streets. News reports said floodwaters in some parts of Guangxi reached the third floor of buildings.
High water levels could spread sewage, polluting drinking water and raising health risks, as well as damaging crops, said Alistair Henley, the Beijing representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
"There will be a lot of suffering particularly for the rural people in neighboring counties," Henley said.
On Thursday, a mudslide reportedly swept a bus and a car off a highway and into a river Thursday near the city of Jian'ou in Fujian, leaving 23 people missing.
In Guangxi, a poor, mountainous region west of Guangdong, flooding in some areas was the worst in a century, with buildings inundated up to the third floor, according to state media.
Some 42,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas of the industrial city of Wuzhou in Guangxi in case a surging river that flows through the city overwhelmed protective dikes, the government said. High school entrance exams in Wuzhou were suspended.
About 760,000 people were evacuated from flood-prone areas in Guangxi, state television said. It didn't give updated figures for evacuations elsewhere, but earlier reports said 320,000 people were relocated in Fujian.
Some were being housed in tents and hastily erected shacks, said Tao Yaoming, a rescue official in the riverside town of Luzhai in Guangxi. "All those impacted by the floods are being handled properly," Tao said.