Levee Collapse in China Threatens 20,000 Villagers

Heavy rain from Tropical Storm Kaemi collapsed a levee in southern China on Wednesday, threatening to flood the homes of 20,000 villagers as soldiers filled the breach with sandbags and tree stumps.

The storm brought an onslaught of torrential rain and winds that killed at least nine people and left 19 missing, China's official Xinhua news agency said.

Seven of the dead and all of the missing were in Jiangxi province, just inland from Fujian province, where Kaemi made landfall as a typhoon Tuesday, the news agency said. Two people died in a landslide in Guangdong province, south of Fujian.

More than 640,000 people were evacuated in Fujian ahead of Kaemi's arrival and 44,000 fishing boats returned to port.

Kaemi is the seventh typhoon to hit during China's rainy summer season. Each year, hundreds die in China as floods and mudslides rush down mountains and overwhelm villages, and dams are smashed by rising torrents.

Although Kaemi dissipated into a depression Wednesday, it continued to pound a wide swath of the south with heavy rain.

Flooding triggered landslides that slammed into five towns in Shangyou, a county in Jiangxi province, "destroying roads and cutting off communications," Xinhua quoted a local official as saying.

In Fujian, the downpours caused a 650-foot-long levee in Zhao'an County to collapse Wednesday morning, threatening 20,000 residents of six villages, Xinhua said.

More than 200 soldiers were working on emergency repairs, the agency said, and by evening they had filled the breach with more than 5,000 sandbags and 60 tree stumps.

The report did not give additional details. Telephone calls to the Zhao'an flood prevention headquarters were not answered.

A man who answered the telephone at the county government office Wednesday night said he had not heard of the levee collapse. Rain was still falling in the area but there had been no reports of disasters, said the man, who would give only his surname, Zhang.

Kaemi hit just as the region was recovering from the last typhoon, Bilis, which triggered flooding and mudslides and killed more than 600 people.

The state meteorological bureau said more rain was expected to lash southern China on Thursday, especially Fujian, Jiangxi and the inland province of Hunan, which was hard hit by Bilis.

Kaemi, the Korean word for ant, dumped rain on the Philippines and Taiwan, knocking out power lines and swelling rivers. Before roaring ashore in Fujian, the storm hit the province with up to six inches of rain and high winds, Xinhua said. There were no reports of deaths or serious damage in the province.

Among preparations, authorities sent more than 3 million mobile phone warnings to people in the region, the government's chief rescue agency said on its Web site.

With Kaemi making its mark, a group of businesses in Fujian have inquired about registering the name as a trademark for their goods, Xinhua said.

"The names of typhoons are always well known and enjoy great popularity, so companies can save money on advertising if they use a typhoon name as a trademark," Zheng Yi, the head of Fuzhou Kaitong Trademark Agency, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.