Heavy rain raises risk of flooding in China’s drought-hit regions

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Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated to safer areas as heavy rains risk flooding an area in southwest China that for most of the summer has been devastated by a heatwave and drought.

Heavy rains were forecast for parts of Sichuan and Chongqing provinces until at least Tuesday.

Chongqing, a megacity built in a hilly area and also overlooking the surrounding mountains and countryside, issued a flash flood warning for the two days.

A farmer walks through the basin of a community reservoir that nearly emptied in hot, dry weather in Longquan village (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Authorities have moved 61,000 people in Sichuan to safer locations since Sunday evening as heavy rain fell overnight, state broadcaster CCTV said Monday.

A village under the jurisdiction of Guangyuan City recorded 7.4 inches (18.8 cm) of rain. The city was one of the two most drought-affected cities in Sichuan.

The change in weather brought some relief from the heat and full power was restored for factories in Sichuan after two weeks of restrictions stemming from reduced hydropower generation.

The rain is expected to help farmers whose rice, peppers and other crops wilted during a prolonged drought that reduced community reservoirs to mostly cracked earth.

Temperatures topped 40C (104F) in what meteorologists have called China’s strongest heatwave since record-keeping began in 1961.

Electricity in Sichuan for commercial and industrial use “has been fully restored”, CCTV said on its website. Household demand for air conditioning declined as temperatures moderated and rains began to replenish hydroelectric reservoirs.

Drought in China
A man uses a hose to water chili plants at his farm in Longquan Village, Chongqing Municipality, southwest China (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

The province’s hydropower generation is up 9.5% from its low point, the state broadcaster reported. Daily household electricity consumption fell 28 percent from a peak of 473 to 340 million kilowatt hours, according to the report, citing Zhao Hong, marketing director of State Grid’s Sichuan subsidiary.

“The contradiction between electricity supply and demand in Sichuan will be basically resolved in the next three days,” Zhao said.

The slump in hydropower generation has prompted Sichuan’s utilities to step up the use of coal-fired power plants, temporarily delaying efforts to cut carbon and other emissions.

The share of electricity in Sichuan that comes from coal has risen from 10% to 25% with 67 power plants operating at full capacity, according to Caixin, a Chinese business news magazine.

Sichuan is generally considered a clean energy success story in China, getting 80% of its electricity from hydroelectricity.

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