GUANGZHOU, China – Soldiers scrambled to shore up soggy levies with sandbags Tuesday in southern China as forecasters warned that more heavy rain in the central region could trigger flooding on the country's second-longest river.
At least 63 people have died in the past month, a disaster official said. China's overall flood death toll for the year stood at 171.
The high waters swamped crop land in the south, forcing farmers to wade into their fields and harvest unripe cucumbers, bitter melons and other vegetables before they spoiled in the water. The natural disaster was driving up food prices that were already soaring before the heavy rains began last month.
Authorities have long been worried that inflation might spark social unrest. The central government Tuesday ordered inspectors to be on alert for price gouging in food markets in areas ravaged by some of the worst flooding in five decades. More torrential rain fell Tuesday afternoon.
In hard-hit Guangdong province, officials were reinforcing embankments in nine cities, including the provincial capital, Guangzhou, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Local television showed soldiers in green camouflage uniforms lugging big sandbags on their backs as they hurried to build up levies in Guangdong, one of the nation's biggest manufacturing bases.
Shop owners in the south-central Guangdong city of Huizhou tried to salvage soaked goods from the floors of their stores. Local television showed employees of a bank using brooms to push out a thick layer of watery brown muck from their establishment.
State broadcaster CCTV reported about 30,000 people were evacuated in Zhaoqing, a city along the Xijiang River in western Guangdong.
Some residents said they felt like they were trapped in the flood zone because they couldn't afford to move. One middle-aged farmer, who wasn't named, told Hong Kong's TVB he was afraid his brick house was ready to collapse in the district of Sanshui, about an hour's drive west of Guangzhou.
"There's nothing I can do even if I'm afraid," he said. "If I had money, I'd immediately buy a flat and move. What can I do without money?"
Meanwhile, forecasters were worried about rising waters on central China's Yellow River, the nation's second-longest after the Yangtze River. The Meteorological Administration warned that flood prevention efforts were entering a "crucial phase" because heavy rain in the next few days would raise the threat of flooding on the Yellow River, the state-run China Daily reported.
Provinces on the lower and middle parts of the river, including Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong were in the most danger, the report said.
At least 63 people have died in 10 provinces and 13 more were missing in the flooding triggered by heavy rainfall that began last month, an official in the Disaster Relief Office of the Ministry of Civil Affairs told The Associated Press. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
So far this year, flooding in 20 provinces and the western Xinjiang region has killed 171 people, Xinhua said. At least 1.27 million people have been relocated, and crop damage was reported on 2.12 million acres, Xinhua said.
The hardest-hit provinces included Guangxi, Jiangxi, Hunnan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guizhou, Yunnan, Zhejiang and Anhui.
The most recent flooding hasn't been as severe as in 2005, when at least 536 people died nationwide. In 1998, flooding during China's summer season claimed 4,150 lives.