XIANNING, Hubei - A new round of lethal floods and ensuing landslides have left at least 50 dead and 40 others missing in some of the major agricultural provinces in southern China, turning fears of month-long drought into record-breaking inundation and bringing this summer's flood casualties to at least 94.
At least 23 died and 10 were missing in the worst-hit Xianning, Hubei province, a spokesman with the provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters said on Friday.
"Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by collapsing buildings after floods destroyed embankments, and 60,000 residents in Xianning's submerged Tongcheng county have been relocated to safe places by late Friday," an official surnamed Zhang from the local flood control and drought relief office said.
Zhang also said torrential rains have affected about 680,000 residents in the province, toppled 6,744 homes and inundated 639 square kilometers of farmlands.
The direct economic loss could reach 610 million yuan ($94 million), he added.
About 1,500 soldiers and six military boats have participated in the rescue.
Continuous rainfalls had pounded Tongcheng beginning late Thursday, topping a 200-year record of 300 millimeters of rain in four hours and inundating the entire county, before the waters retreated late Friday.
In suburban Tongcheng, local villagers were building earth-filled dams with shovels in preparation for forecast rains.
"Floodwaters quickly rose to my chest and pushed the grocery store in front of my home about five meters forward," an unnamed villager was quoted by China Central Television as saying.
Traffic, electricity and telephone services in Tongcheng, which had been cut off by the floods, had mostly resumed in the downtown area by late Friday, the local flood control center said.
In downtown Tongcheng, a shop owner told China Central Television he suffered at least 2 million yuan in losses, as he started to clean the flood-hit store after the waters receded.
In nearby low-lying Chongyang county of Xianning, a submerged national road, which connects three nearby provinces, was cut off by floodwaters up to 0.4 meters deep.
A worker surnamed Wang at a gas station alongside the six-lane national road told China Daily the rainfalls had stranded at least a hundred passengers and dozens of cars and trucks.
Local residents joined the rescue, helping transport the trapped passengers to safety in steamboats, since official rescue teams were kept far away by cut-off transportation.
Wu Xianliang, a 46-year-old migrant worker who commutes between Chongyang and a nearby county, was trapped on his way home, saying he has never seen such a flood and fearing he may have to stay overnight along the broken road.
Floods also killed two people in the nearby city of Huanggang, said a spokesman with Hubei's civil affairs department.
In other parts of China, rainfalls and approaching tropical storms have wreaked havoc in almost half of the country that just survived months of drought.
In neighboring Hunan province, the flood has killed at least 19 people and 28 went missing, affecting some 1.4 million residents in 19 counties, China News Service reported.
In Jiangxi province's Xiushui county, about 26,000 people were evacuated and 1,200 stranded after their homes were hit by torrential rains early Friday. Three people, including a child, died after their homes were crushed by landslides in the county, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Three people were also killed in Guizhou province of Southwest China.
Meanwhile, this summer's first tropical storm may land in South China's Guangdong province over the coming weekend, bringing possible landslides in coastal Guangdong and Fujian provinces on Saturday, according to the provincial meteorological station.
The National Meteorological Center has issued a blue rainstorm alert, the lightest in the country's four-level rainstorm alert system.
Lin Jian, chief weatherman with the center, attributed the sudden shift from drought and downpours to an interruption of the monsoon.
Mao Liuxi, an agricultural meteorology expert with the center, said the flooding is not likely to have a negative impact on China's grain production, adding high temperatures in the south later this year would ensure normal production.