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Natural disasters

Anxiety grows as water level in Three Gorges Dam increases

Chinese officials reassure public as torrential downpours continue

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River discharges water to lower the water level in the reservoir.   © Reuters

SHANGHAI -- The relentless rains pummeling central and southern China have lifted water levels at the Three Gorges Dam, fueling concerns of much wider flood damage.

One of the world's largest, the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei Province is now holding back water from the Yangtze River, China's longest, at a level topping 162 meters as of Tuesday afternoon. The dam was built to hold 145 meters of water.

Because of heavy downpours since June, authorities have allowed dam to hold more water to prevent flooding downstream. The dam started pumping out excess water at the end of June in an attempt to control the volume.

The dam initially pumped out 30,000 cu. meters of water per second. The rate was cut to less than 20,000 cu. meters per second in mid-July.

But the heavy rain continued unabated, and the inflow of floodwater to the Three Gorges Dam amounted to 61,000 cubic meters per second on Saturday, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Over 400 rivers have experienced flooding, affecting 24 million people this month with authorities estimating the economic toll at 64.4 billion yuan ($9.2 billion). Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus originated, was among the areas inundated by floodwater.

The Ministry of Water Resources has said all dams along the Yangtze River are being safely supervised, citing the 30,000 monitoring stations along the river and the network of adjustable flood control pumps. But there has been speculation in Chinese media over whether the dams will be breached if the heavy rain continues.

The water ministry expects downpours to continue through Thursday, according to media reports. The National Meteorological Center has advised the affected areas to remain on alert.

Honda Motor operates three plants in Wuhan. The facilities were responsible for half the 1.37 million vehicles the Japanese automaker manufactured in China in fiscal 2019.

"At this point, there are no reports of any impact, including at dealerships," said a Honda representative. But in the case of severe flooding, the blow to Honda's Chinese business would be significant.

Japanese tire maker Bridgestone operates an automotive seat pad plant in Wuhan. As of Wednesday afternoon, "there has been no impact on facilities and the supply chain for material has not ceased," said a Bridgestone spokesperson.

No damage has been reported at Isuzu Motors' truck and engine factories in Chongquing, a metropolis on the Yangtze River. The same goes for Mazda Motor's facility in the city of Nanjing, also located along the river.

The companies were forced to shut down their plants temporarily this spring due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The factories started to restore normal capacity in April, and China is the sole market in which operations have recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The floodwaters risk reversing those gains.

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