Nervous residents living below the massive Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River are building up flood defenses and heading for higher ground as new floodwaters surge toward the dam.
Even if the almost unimaginable catastrophe of a structural failure is avoided, the locals are apprehensive that further emergency discharges of water from Three Gorges could be necessary.
Another spectacular discharge occurred on Tuesday, reducing the amount of floodwater in the dam by up to 37 percent, according to Chinese state media. “Experts” were quoted giving the standard assurances that water levels will not rise to the point where the dam or its hydroelectric plant, the largest in the world, is seriously threatened.
“As floods continue to ravage many parts of China, experts say many of the cities downstream are being waterlogged due to intense rainfall overwhelming drainage systems and not as a result of flooding in the river,” CGTN News asserted.
Asia Times was less sanguine about the situation at Three Gorges, describing the dam’s operators as taking a “wartime” footing after the third big flood of the summer, with more flooding expected before relief from torrential rains arrives in August.
China’s water ministry said during an emergency meeting with the Three Gorges Group on Monday that a “tight balancing act” must be performed to protect lower-lying regions from flooding without jeopardizing the huge dam. The dam company said its plan is to “hold as much floodwater as possible to buy time for cities downstream to ramp up their defenses.”
Officials from the Chinese government and the Three Gorges Group reacted peevishly to speculation that the dam might collapse, describing the floods as “severe but not unprecedented” and the dam as “almost impregnable.”
“Since when is channeling water through a dam to convert the force of water into electricity regarded as a sign of the dam becoming unstable?” snapped the Three Gorges group in response to “doomsayers” in Indian and Taiwanese media who said the dam has been performing unannounced emergency discharges of water that flooded low-lying cities without warning.
Australia’s 9News found people living along the Yangtze River moving to higher ground, racing to harvest what crops they can, and “scrambling to shore up embankments as the world’s largest dam faces mounting flood pressure.”
The Three Gorges Group has estimated the dam can handle 13 more days of heavy inflow before the reservoir overflows, 9News noted, which could be cutting things very close, given weather forecasts for the next two weeks.
China’s Ministry of Emergency Management estimated on Tuesday that 54.8 million people have now been affected by the floods, with 158 of them dead or missing and 3.76 million relocated. Economic damage from the floods now exceeds $20 billion.
Forbes saw evidence on Tuesday of a food crisis brewing in China due to the floods, which have wiped out a considerable number of farms, including vital wheat and rice staples. Rising domestic prices and a surge in food imports suggest the floods have combined with insect infestations and inadequate storage of corn inventories to make “food security a top concern.”