Three floodgates of the Three Gorges Dam that spans the Yangtze River were opened as the water level behind the massive dam rose more than 50 feet above flood level, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
The dam was holding back about 45 percent of the water, Xinhua said, citing China Three Gorges Corp.
Upstream, 11 people had been killed in Chongqing as of Saturday morning, China National Emergency Broadcasting said in an online report, citing the municipal emergency agency. More than 20,000 people had been evacuated and 1,031 homes destroyed.
Three landslides in Dunhao town in a mountainous part of Chongqing left six dead, the city’s Emergency Management Bureau said. The bodies had been found by Friday evening after more than 200 people were dispatched for a search and rescue operation. Rainfall in the town of Dunhao totaled 15 inches, the bureau said.
Three more people died in neighboring Hubei province, the emergency management department said in a social media post.
State broadcaster CCTV showed people cleaning up still wet, muddy streets and shops in the city of Enshi after severe flooding Friday. Rescue workers used inflatable rafts to rescue more than 1,900 people trapped in their homes and other buildings.
Downriver, firefighters and others finished filling in a 620-foot break in a dike on Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, Xinhua said.
The dike gave way nine days ago, flooding 15 villages and agricultural fields in Jiangxi province, the news agency said. More than 14,000 people were evacuated.
The incoming waters were expected to peak Saturday behind the Three Gorges Dam, but more water is forecast to arrive around Tuesday, Xinhua said. The hydropower dam is used to mitigate catastrophic flooding.
Seasonal flooding strikes large parts of China annually, especially in its central and southern regions, but the rainfall has been unusually high this year.
About 1.8 million people have been evacuated and direct losses attributed to flooding are estimated at more than $7 billion, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management.
Major cities have been spared so far, but concern has risen over Wuhan and other downstream metropolises that are home to tens of millions of people.
China’s worst floods in recent years were in 1998, when more than 2,000 people died and almost 3 million homes were destroyed, mostly along the Yangtze.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.