Flooding across China kills 701, the worst toll in a decade, and heaviest rains still to come

BEIJING (AP) — More than 1,000 people have died or disappeared in severe flooding in China so far this year, and the heaviest rains are still to come, a senior official warned Wednesday.

This year's floods, which have caused tens of billions of dollars in damage already, have exacted the highest death toll since 1998, when the highest water levels in five decades claimed 4,150 lives.

With the typhoon season rolling in, Liu Ning, general secretary of the government's flood prevention agency, told a news conference authorities must ramp up preparations.

"Since 60 to 80 percent of the annual rain level occurs in June, July and August, we should be prepared to prevent and combat potential disasters," Liu said.

Tropical storm Chanthu is expected to hit China's southern island of Hainan and Guangdong province this weekend. Six to eight typhoons are expected this year.

Already, three-quarters of China's provinces have been plagued by flooding and 25 rivers have seen record-high water levels, Liu said.

State broadcaster China Central Television showed footage of soldiers and rescue workers searching through rubble and mud for survivors of a landslide in Ankang city in the northern province of Shaanxi, where 14 people have died and 35 remained missing as of Wednesday.

Footage from Shaanxi and the southwestern province of Sichuan showed flooded shops and homes, with buses and cars driving down water-filled streets. Some residents waded through knee-deep water to stock up at the local supermarket.

Flooding, particularly along the Yangtze River basin, has overwhelmed reservoirs, swamped towns and cities, and caused landslides that have smothered communities, including toppling 645,000 houses. The Three Gorges Dam faced its highest levels ever this week and water breached the massive dam.

"Although water levels in the upper stretches of the Yangtze River have surpassed that of 1998, the flood situation is still not as severe because the Three Gorges Dam has played a key role in preventing floods along the river this year," Liu said.

The waters have killed 701 people and left 347 missing. The overall damage totals 142.2 billion yuan ($21 billion), Liu said.

This year's torrential floods have hit farms especially hard, affecting 2.3 million acres (930,000 hectares) of crops, with more than 330 acres (133 hectares) destroyed by floods as of July 10, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.