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Massive floods threaten tens of millions as intense rains batter southern China

Heavy rains hammered southern China on the weekend, flooding homes, streets and farmland and threatening to upend the lives of tens of millions of people as rescuers rushed to evacuate residents trapped by rising waters.

At least 11 people are missing, six of whom are from the town of Jiangwan near Shaoguan city in the province’s mountainous north, where heavy downpours have triggered landslides that injured six people, state-run news agency Xinhua said Monday.

Days of rainstorms have lashed Guangdong province, an economic powerhouse home to 127 million people, bringing widespread floods that have forced more than 82,500 people to be relocated, state media reported, citing the local government.

Since April 16, sustained torrential rains have pounded the Pearl River Delta, China’s manufacturing heartland and one of the country’s most populated regions, with four weather stations in Guangdong registering record rainfall for April.

The Pearl River basin is subject to annual flooding from April to September, but the region has faced more intense rainstorms and severe floods in recent years as scientists warn that the climate crisis will amplify extreme weather, making it deadlier and more frequent.

Last year, China encountered “more intense and extreme” downpours during the flood season than in previous years, with 72 national weather stations registering record daily rainfall and 346 stations breaking monthly records, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

Since last week, at least 44 rivers in the Pearl River basin have swelled above the warning line, threatening to burst their banks, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

On the Bei River, which flows into the Pearl River, authorities have warned of a “once a century” flood expected to reach 5.8 meters (19 feet) above the warning limit. The tributary had already burst its banks on April 8, marking the earliest arrival of its annual flood season since records began in 1998, according to Guangdong authorities.

Aerial footage aired by CCTV on the weekend showed villages inundated by murky flood waters, with only roofs and treetops visible in some places.

In Guangning county, Zhaoqing city, footage shared by residents on short video app Douyin shows muddy brown water gushing through village streets and sweeping away cars. In Shaoguan, a man is seen pushing his scooter through shoulder-high flood waters. And in Qingyuan city, social media footage shows strong gales and rain felling trees and flipping over motorcycles.

Authorities raised the flood control emergency response for the Pearl River Delta to level 2 on Sunday – the second highest in a four-tier system.

Many cities have suspended schools and hundreds of flights have been canceled in the metropolises of Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

More than 80 houses have either collapsed or been severely damaged, resulting in a direct economic loss of nearly 140 million yuan ($20 million), Xinhua reported.

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