Torrential rains have continued to batter China, destroying homes and rendering millions of people homeless as residents fear they may be facing a repeat of floods that devastated the country more than 20 years ago.
The country has raised its national emergency response to the second-highest level as water levels broke records not seen since 1998, when floods killed more than 3,000 people.
On Monday, China’s ministry of water resources said flood alerts had been raised for 433 rivers in the country since early June, including 33 where water levels have broken historical records.
Authorities in the eastern province of Jiangxi, one of the worst-hit areas, issued “wartime” measures after the Poyang lake, the largest freshwater lake in China, topped 22.5 metres (74ft), exceeding levels reached in 1998. It has raised its alert level to the highest and evacuated more than 400,000 people. The neighbouring province of Anhui has also been hit by severe floods.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, gave “important instructions” to officials to do their best in protecting people’s lives and their property, the state news agency Xinhua reported on Sunday. The government has sent thousands of soldiers to the Yangtze River, where they have been building dykes along the embankment and digging channels to release water.
The country, already struggling to revive its economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, has endured weeks of severe rains, flooding and mudslides in almost all provinces. At least 27 million people have been affected, including more than 2.24 million who have had to evacuate. According to official figures, 141 people have died or are missing.
Footage from the worst-hit areas at the weekend showed houses collapsing into muddy floodwaters and residents being pulled from their homes by firefighters on rafts. Last week, students travelled to their national university entrance exam, the gaokao, in kayaks and tractors as well as bathtubs.
Concerns are growing the country will have a repeat of the 1998 floods that affected an estimated fifth of China’s population. About 15 million people lost their homes and millions of farmers lost land and crops.
On Saturday, China’s National Development and Reform Commission said it would be sending 309m yuan (about £35m) in relief funds to affected regions, including Jiangxi and Hubei provinces as well as Chongqing in the south-west, also badly hit.
On social media, users criticised the amount of aid, given the widespread devastation. Officials estimated the floods had resulted in direct economic losses of more than 60bn yuan (£6.8bn).
“This 309m yuan is not even enough to buy or sell a piece of land,” one said. “This is not worth reporting. It is not even more than what that official in Shaanxi stole,” another said, referring to a disgraced provincial official who had confessed to bribery. Authorities seized more than 630m yuan of his assets.
“This needs at least 3bn yuan,” said another. “It has been a year of disasters and calamities.”