Published: Tuesday 31 August 1999

Around 770,000 people in Ziyang in China's Hunan province were evacuated by rescuers after the Minzu Yuan dyke collapsed following heavy rains that lashed the area on July 23. "However, no casualties have been reported so far," an official with the Ziyang district's civil affairs bureau said. Floods are a yearly fixture in these areas.

Ziyang is part of Yiyang city, where the water level of the Yangtze River rose to 35.5 metres a day prior to the incident. The city has been hit by natural disasters in four out of the past five years. There was a proper harvest only in 1997. "It seems that only winter crops can be planted this year because it will take at least three months to drain the water. A lot of people have no food, clothes or homes," an official added.

At least 7,000 soldiers and officials from the Guangzhou military region were sent to Ziyang. Meanwhile, floods and landslides killed six people and washed away roads in the Rongshui county, part of the Guangxi autonomous region.

In another incident, more than 20 fishermen were feared drowned near Wuhan in Hubei province when their fishing boat capsized on Dongjing River, a tributary of the Yangtze. Floods are a yearly fixture in these areas.

The Yangtze, also known as the "River of Sorrow" displaces thousands every year. Ironically, its flood plains are also known as the "Rice Bowl of China". These plains produce huge quantities of food crops not only for the vast hinterland but also for those residing in the cities.

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