Typhoon Chanthu lashes flood-hit China

CHONGQING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Typhoon Chanthu lashed southern China on Tuesday with punishing winds and heavy rain in the latest weather challenge for a country in which flooding has killed 700 people this year.

Chanthu made landfall in Guangdong province with winds of up to 126 kilometres per hour (78 mph), as the nation grapples with its worst flooding in 10 years, which is expected to continue as the typhoon season gains pace.

Chanthu's winds and rain were expected to rake Guangdong, the island province of Hainan and the Guangxi region with "ferocious precipitation", the China Meteorological Administration warned.

The typhoon made landfall near the city of Wuchuan. State-run television broadcast images of large waves crashing onto the Guangdong shore and said electricity, telecommunications and water services were cut in some areas.

Guangdong and Guangxi are among the areas already hit by torrential rains and subsequent flooding that has killed hundreds over the past several weeks and caused scores of rivers and lakes across the region to reach danger levels.

At least 701 people have died from the beginning of the year to July 20, while 347 people remain missing, vice minister of water resources Liu Ning told reporters Wednesday.

The Civil Affairs Ministry said three million people have been evacuated.

The flooding has intensified amid increasingly wet weather across several provinces since June. The ministry has said nearly 500 people have been killed or gone missing since July 1 alone.

Liu warned of more misery to come as the typhoon season gets into gear, saying six to eight major typhoons were expected in the coming months.

The weather administration warned people in Chanthu's westward-moving path to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors until the all-clear is given.

At least two dozen flights in and out of Hainan's Haikou city were cancelled Thursday, airport officials announced.

Elsewhere, the weather administration forecast light to moderate rain for the next three days across parts of China most affected by the recent flooding, including the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hubei, Anhui, and Yunnan.

Liu said Wednesday that more than 230 rivers in the country had seen water levels rise beyond warning points, with two dozen exceeding historic highs.

Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed in floods and landslides, and economic losses have hit at least 142 billion yuan (21 billion dollars), he said. The deaths and damage are China's worst in a decade.

The floods have dominated the country's attention for weeks, with state television each day broadcasting dramatic images of flood victims being rescued from raging rivers or plucked from rooftops in inundated villages.

The situation has triggered fears China could see a repeat of disastrous 1998 floods, when heavy rain swelled the Yangtze, China's longest river, and many tributaries, leading to a series of devastating levee collapses.

At least 4,150 people were believed killed, 18 million were evacuated and millions of homes destroyed in the country's worst floods in recent memory.

Liu and other officials said the 2006 completion of the Three Gorges Dam -- which was built partly for flood control -- and other flood-control projects since then would prevent such a recurrence.