Torrential rain that has lashed China for weeks has killed dozens more people in China's west and forced authorities to close shipping locks on the massive Three Gorges Dam, officials said on Tuesday.
At least 37 people died and another 86 were missing after landslides and flooding in northwestern Shaanxi province and southwestern Sichuan since late last week, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on its website (http://www.mca.gov.cn).
The deaths come on top of nearly 150 over the first half of the month. Millions of people have been evacuated from their homes and throughout the country communities are nervously watching bulging river banks and bolstering strained dikes.
The reservoir behind the massive Three Gorges dam, the world's largest hydropower project, had swollen to the highest level ever and floodwaters were flowing faster than in 1998 when a devastating deluge killed more than 4,000 people.
The Changjiang Maritime Safety Administration, which regulates shipping along the Yangtze, said that no ships would be able to use locks on the giant dam until the flow drops below 45,000 cubic metres per second.
It hit a peak of 69,000 on Monday, the administration's website (http://www.cjmsa.gov.cn) said, without giving a forecast for when it might reach the target.
Officials said there were no safety fears however. Before the flood peak hit, the locks were closed down in rotation, checked for any potential problems, and cleared of debris washed down by floods so far, China National Radio reported.
"The peak flow is high, but it has not exceeded the designed capacity of 100,000 cubic metres of water per second," the official China Daily quoted Cao Guangjing, chairman of the Three Gorges Corporation, as saying.
"The dam can withstand the challenge easily," Cao added.
A road alongside the dam has also been opened so urgent shipments can be driven past the locks and reloaded on other boats downstream, the China Daily added.
The torrential rain has entirely cut off some of the worst affected areas, such as Sichuan's Wanyuan city, where workers battled over 24 hours to restore a road link to the outside world, risking landslides and floods.
Guangan city, also in Sichuan, faced the most severe floods since 1847, the official Xinhua agency said.