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China appeals for international aid for flood relief


BEIJING -- Chinese disaster officials issued "an urgent appeal" this morning to the international community for $200 million in relief aid to regions of eastern China most devastated by the nation's worst flooding in several decades.

Several million soldiers and reservists are battling the floods, and officials are braced for even more devastation as the rainy season is just beginning.

About 1,000 people are reported to have died so far as a result of the flooding, which hit the eastern provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Henan and Zhejiang particularly hard. In all, 18 of China's 30 provinces have reported serious problems.

"Wide in coverage, heavy in losses and great in extent, flooding [of this kind] has been rarely recorded for dozens of years," Chen Hong, China's vice minister of civil affairs, said this morning in issuing the appeal for money, materials and medicine for Anhui and Jiangsu provinces in particular.

"In general, the disaster situation is growing worse," Mr. Chen said.

Tens of millions of Chinese already have been affected by the floods, which left some large areas under about 4 feet of water.

Hundreds of thousands of homes have been destroyed; millions of acres of crops have been washed out; tens of thousands of businesses have been put out of action; rail and highway transportation in some areas has been stalled.

Officials also fear possible epidemics.

Taiwan's Red Cross donated $200,000 this week to help victims. Several other nations and the United Nations added $700,000 in aid.

The flooding came about because much of eastern China received early, torrential rains from June 1 through early this week, amounting to half that area's average annual rainfall. More flooding is expected during the typhoon season that comes to China's east coast in July and August.

The disaster has prompted a call in China's state-controlled press for improved weather forecasting, which is often inaccurate here. In the meantime, officials have tackled the devastation with military means and, as always, with an eye on turning the disaster into a political lesson.

Just west of Shanghai, the People's Liberation Army used tons of dynamite to blow up eight large dams holding back the record-high waters of huge Tai Hu Lake, the largest lake in eastern China.

In the city of Wuxi, just west of Shanghai, a PLA brigade was reported to have heroically formed "a human dam" to hold back part of a riverbank that had been on the verge of collapse.

Touring flood-stricken areas in Anhui province, Jiang Zemin, head of the Communist Party, advised that the Chinese people "can overcome any natural disaster, if only they rely on the leadership of the party, on the socialist system and on the wisdom and strength of the people."

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