SHANGHAI, Sept. 8 (AP) -- Rain-soaked residents of southwestern China began digging out Wednesday after floods and landslides killed at least 161 people, while authorities warned of further rains over parts of the disaster area.
Downpours stopped in Sichuan province's hard-hit Dazhou area, where the death toll stood at 89 with 41 missing and about 10,000 people sick and injured, said He Rongjun, a spokesman for the provincial disaster relief office.
In sprawling Chongqing municipality just east of Sichuan, 72 people were dead and 23 missing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
However, meteorologists have warned that at least three major storms will strike in coming weeks, He said.
"Even though the rain has stopped, we will not be moving any rescue workers from the front line so soon," He said by telephone from Sichuan's capital, Chengdu.
Authorities put the enormous Three Gorges hydroelectric project on alert as flood crests passed through the swollen Yangtze River. Navigation through the dam's locks was suspended.
Lin Hai, an official with the dam's water traffic bureau, said the locks would reopen once water flow dropped to below 45,000 cubic meters (1.5 million cubic feet) per second from the current level of 60,000 cubic meters (2.1 million cubic feet) per second.
Usual volume through the dam is 30,000 cubic meters (1 million cubic feet) per second.
"If there's no further storm from upstream, we expect the locks to reopen on Friday," Lin said.
Summer rains wreak havoc across the flood-prone Yangtze practically every year, with torrents rushing down denuded slopes to menace low-lying plains in central China.
Residents of Chongqing's mountainous Kaixian county were being allowed back to homes devastated by the floods and mudslides, Xinhua said. The area accounted for 54 of Chongqing's deaths.
More than 200 medical workers were disinfecting the area and 18 disease monitoring stations were being set up to guard against outbreaks, Xinhua said. Electricity was expected to be restored to the entire county by Wednesday.
China Central Television showed streets where waters had receded strewn with garbage, furniture and household items. Where waters were still high, soldiers used boats to evacuate people from flooded homes, while elderly residents were floated away from their homes on makeshift rafts and infants pushed through the mire in bright red washbasins.
More than 5,000 soldiers were taking part in the rescue efforts, and one 19-year-old recruit drowned while helping with evacuations, Xinhua said.
Flooding losses were initially estimated at 3.9 billion yuan (US$470 million; euro 385 million), Xinhua said, with the greatest damage caused by landslides and flash floods sweeping through mountain valleys.
The halt to navigation on the Three Gorges Dam, the world's biggest hydroelectric project, was the first since the dam was reopened to river traffic in June 2003, the reports said.
The project, which required 1.3 million people to relocate, has been touted by authorities as a means of stemming flooding along the Yangtze.