Floods on the upper reaches of the Yangtze river in south-west China have forced authorities to evacuate more than 100,000 people and threatened a 1,200-year-old world heritage site.
Staff, police and volunteers used sandbags to try to protect the 71-metre (233ft) Leshan Giant Buddha, a Unesco world heritage site in the south-west Sichuan province, as muddy flood water rose over its toes for the first time since 1949, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
However, the worst of the flooding appeared to be over in Sichuan by Wednesday when the emergency level was lowered and the toes of a famous Buddhist statue re-emerged as waters receded.
Five people were missing in neighbouring Yunnan province in the south-west after a landslide destroyed two houses, the official People’s Daily newspaper said.
In Sichuan, 21 vehicles parked in a square in Yibin fell into a hole after the road beneath them collapsed in the middle of the night. No one was injured, according to media reports.
Flooding has left more than 200 people dead or missing in China this year and caused $25 billion in damage, authorities said last week.
Sichuan, through which the Yangtze river flows, raised its emergency response to the maximum level on Tuesday to cope with a new round of torrential rainfall.
The Yangtze water resources commission, the government body that oversees the river, declared a red alert late on Tuesday, saying water at some monitoring stations was expected to exceed “guaranteed” flood protection levels by more than 5 metres.
Water inflows at the Three Gorges project, a major hydroelectric facility designed in part to tame floods on the Yangtze, rose to a record 72,000 cubic meters (2.5 million cubic feet) per second on Wednesday, state media said. The inflow was expected to peak on Thursday at 76,000 cubic meters per second, the ministry of water resources said.
The project restricts the amount of water flowing downstream by storing it in its reservoir, which has beenmore than 10 metres higher than its official warning level for more than a month.
The facility was forced to raise water discharge volumes on Tuesday in order to “reduce flood control pressures“, the water ministry said.
Authorities have been at pains to show that the cascade of giant dams and reservoirs built along the Yangtze’s upper reaches have shielded the region from the worst of the floods this year, though critics say they might be making things worse.
The sprawling Yangtze river city of Chongqing saw its worst flooding since 1981. Water covered roofs in low-lying areas of the historic town of Ciqikou, which was closed to tourists because of the rains from Tuesday evening.