- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

BEIJING — Nearly a half-million people fled a flood zone surrounding central China’s swollen Huai River, while high waters in the south unleashed a plague of an estimated 2 billion field mice that were ravaging crops, state press reported yesterday.

Continuous rain since June has raised the river to dangerous levels. The official Xinhua news agency said the region was bracing for its worst floods in decades.

Xinhua said that 488,800 people had been evacuated from the central provinces of Anhui, Henan and Jiangsu and that several cities and railway lines were in danger of being inundated.

The Huai had been diverted into other rivers and low-lying fields to slow its rise, Xinhua said.

Thirteen sluices at the Wangjiaba hydropower station on the Huai were shut after being left open for 45 hours to relieve pressure. They were ordered closed when the water level dropped down to a danger level cutoff of 96 feet.

The Huai flows through densely populated farmland between China’s two major rivers, the Yellow and the Yangtze. Bottlenecks and elevation changes make flooding a regular occurrence during the summer rainy season.

Xinhua said nationwide flooding and rainfall-triggered landslides have killed at least 360 persons so far this summer, mainly in the southwestern province of Sichuan, and have caused billions of dollars in damage.

The State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters put the direct economic losses at $3.13 billion, the agency reported.

Meanwhile, Xinhua reported that authorities in the southern province of Hunan were on alert for rodent-related diseases after carrying out a massive extermination of field mice, driven from their holes by floodwaters.

Residents rushed to contain and kill an estimated 2 billion mice that ravaged crops in 22 counties around Hunan’s flooded Dongting Lake, the news agency said.

China Central Television showed Yiyang city residents beating the rodents to death with clubs and shovels. Some were scooped from lakeside ditches with fishing nets, and many others were poisoned.

Residents had killed more than 2.3 million mice — 90 tons of them — since June 21, Xinhua said.

The dead mice were covered with lime and buried in deep pits to prevent the spread of disease. Specialists from the national and provincial Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were sent to the area this week.

There were no reports yet of disease, Xinhua said, but an estimated 1,000 cats died in Hunan’s Binhu village after eating poisoned mice.