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Natural disasters

Anxiety rises as water set to peak at Three Gorges Dam

Water levels seen reaching record 165m on Saturday

Flooding has already reached record levels in Chongqing, submerging streets and damaging stores. (Photo by Shunsuke Tabeta)

CHONGQING -- Cities along the China's Yangtze River, already hit with billions of dollars in flood damage, have braced for more as water levels at the Three Gorges Dam are expected to peak as early as Saturday.

Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday visited Tongnan, a flood-hit district of Chongqing that sits along a Yangtze tributary, to survey the damage. "Let's work hand in hand to overcome this disaster," he said. "If you have any trouble, please speak up."

Water levels continue to rise along the middle reaches of China's longest river, with inflows into the Three Gorges Dam reaching 75,000 cu. meters of water per second. Chinese authorities predicted Wednesday that flooding would peak Saturday at 165 meters. To limit the rise, 11 sluice gates were opened Thursday, one more than before, increasing the outflow to a record 49,000 cu. meters per second.

The 185-meter-high dam, completed in May 2006, supplies power to a large swath of China, including Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui and Guangdong. Li said during his trip to Tongnan that the government will work quickly to help those hit by the flooding, step up oversight of the dam and promote economic recovery.

Chongqing, on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, faces its worst flooding on record, with water levels topping the previous high from 1981 and more than 260,000 people affected. Roads along the river have been submerged, and roughly 20,000 stores have been damaged. But water levels there have begun to fall after peaking Thursday morning.

In Sichuan Province to the west, 3.41 million people across nearly 20 cities and autonomous prefectures, including Chengdu and Leshan, have been affected by the floods. Direct economic losses from the disaster, including damage to crops and commercial facilities, have reached 16.4 billion yuan ($2.37 billion). Another 120,000 people are affected in neighboring Gansu Province, with damage there rising to 300 million yuan.

The flooding threatens to disrupt the many Japanese companies with operations along the Yangtze, including manufacturers that ship products and components to and from Shanghai and Guangdong Province.

"River transport has been halted on some sections of the Yangtze River, and because some roads are flooded, we've switched to alternative transport methods such as rail," said a representative of logistics company Nippon Express.

Meanwhile, many production facilities run by automakers and electrical equipment manufacturers are situated on higher ground away from the river and appear to remain unaffected by the flooding. Isuzu Motors, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel Engineering have said there will be no impact on production.

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