First came a rushing sound and warning cries. The local TV station interrupted its broadcasts and told people to flee. Then came the wall of water that drowned homes and fields.
Four days after a dike protecting it collapsed, Jiayu county, on the Yangtze River in central China, was struggling Wednesday with the aftermath of some of the most serious floods in an unusually de-struc-tive season of summer rains that have killed at least 1,280 people.Provinces in the south and east, already badly hit, were warned to brace for possible further flooding from tropical storm Otto, which barreled into Fujian province on the southeast coast Wednesday after killing at least one person in Taiwan.
Officials had warned that Otto's winds and heavy rains might cause flood-weakened dikes to collapse. China's State Meteorological Bureau, however, said Wednesday that Otto was losing strength as it headed in-land.
Just a few roofs poked through the lake that covered Jiayu Wednesday. Most houses were completely sub-merged.
Some of the 57,000 people who were flooded out were living in plastic lean-tos. Other survivors were moved into farmers' houses or school buildings vacated for the summer holidays, said a Jiayu government official.
The official, who refused to give his name, said the majority of people had been resettled and the government was providing food and water.
The death toll from Saturday's floods in Jiayu remained unclear Wednesday. County officials said they were concentrating on rescuing and resettling the living, not counting the dead or injured.
A Hong Kong-based human rights group said more than 1,000 people were believed to be missing. Officials denied Wednesday that so many people were lost and said casualty figures were still being compiled.
An official newspaper, the Hubei Daily, said Wednesday that 19 soldiers were missing. One of the paper's affiliates, Chutiandusi, said Tuesday that 148 people had been killed in flooding in all of Hubei province.
Paizhou and Hezhen, the two towns in Jiayu that were flooded, lie along the Yangtze, the world's third-largest river. This year, the river has risen to levels unseen since flooding in 1954 killed more than 30,000 people.
Yangtze floodwaters, caused by summer rains that fell heavier and earlier than usual, have displaced millions of people and inundated vast stretches of rich farmland. Millions of soldiers and civilians were toiling on the Yangtze's dikes, watching for signs of collapse and plugging leaks.
The main Yangtze levees reportedly have remained intact, but secondary levees like the one in Jiayu have not.