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Earth Sense: Overland floods dangerous in Chinese region
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Parts of Anhui Province in China resemble South Georgia. Two-hundred and fifty miles west of Shanghai, the Yangtze River cuts through a flat landscape of fields, orchards and small communities.

Countless lakes and ponds retain water in this area of frequent rain storms. This summer, after southern Germany and West Virginia, Anhui and neighboring provinces became the third on the list of major flood disasters. Starting on June 18, relentless rain pounded the cities of Wuhan, Hefei and Wuhu. The capacity of small lakes was soon reached, and area floods swept through houses and farms.

Dramatic footage shows farmers trying to rescue thousands of pigs from the currents. In Anhui Province alone, a Chinese news site, ecns.cn, reported that 2,267 houses collapsed and 146,000 hectares of crops were damaged.

The massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in Hubei Province, west of Anhui, held much of the water back.

But farther downstream, the city of Wuhan issued a red emergency alert, the highest in China’s system. Between June 30 and July 8, more than 50 inches of rain had fallen. That’s more than the entire yearly total for North Georgia.

The biggest concern came when Super-Typhoon Nepartak, a Category 5 hurricane, swept through Taiwan with peak winds of 175 mph. Heading westward for Anhui, the midsize and small lakes, already filled to capacity, became a hazard because their dams don’t tend to be as solid as the large ones.

“My parents and brother are in dangerous situation,” my student Mengqin Zhang emailed. “The flood gets more and more serious, the rain hasn’t stopped, two cities where my brother and parents live will drown if the dam breaks.”

When Nepartak reached the mainland, more rain came for Anhui and Hubei.

“Typhoon Nepartak brings chaos to East China,” ecns.cn reported.

But fortunately, nature complied with the rules that scientists lay down for her in textbooks. When hurricanes make landfall, they get cut off from warm ocean water, which is their energy supply. Nepartak followed the pattern and began to dissolve over the large land area.

Winds and rain were much weaker than they had been in Taiwan. The situation is gradually improving now.

But the large flatlands of Anhui Province will have to keep fighting the waters for a while, since overland floods of this kind drain much more slowly than the flash floods seen in West Virginia last month.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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