Watch: China braces for ‘once a century’ floods, as record rains causes landslides

Three people have died, 11 are missing and tens of thousands have been evacuated amid warnings of a “once a century” flooding in southern China.

Record-breaking rains causing rivers to swell by up to seven metres have submerged homes, shops and farmland in areas of Guangdong province, triggering fears on how the region will cope with future extreme weather events linked to climate change.

Scientists say such events have become more intense and unpredictable in China, hitting the world’s second-largest economy with heavy rains, droughts and severe heat that have inflicted a huge personal and economic toll on parts of the country.

The unusually heavy precipitation and storms in Guangdong arrived on Thursday, much earlier than the flood season in May and June. On Monday, the authorities raced to rescue villagers caught in landslides and to evacuate trapped residents, dispatching helicopters and carrying some elderly people by piggyback from their homes.

Resident with child wading through flood from heavy rains in Qingyuan city
Residents have been evacuated following heavy rains in Qingyuan city - STR/AFP
Qingyuan city streets are flooded after unusually heavy rains
Qingyuan city streets are flooded after unusually heavy rains - STRSTR/AFP

The weather crisis had prompted the relocation of close to 54,000 people, collapsed 36 houses and damaged dozens more, reported state media agency Xinhua. It said three people had died in Zhaoqing City after being trapped by the rainfall but did not provide further details.

Of those evacuated, more than 45,000 were from the northern city of Qingyuan, which straddles the banks of the Bei River, a tributary in the wider Pearl River Delta. The authorities said the river was expected to reach levels not seen in 50 years. Many other rivers remain at levels above safety thresholds.

The severity of the weather has prompted concerns about economic damage in Guangdong, a key manufacturing and commercial hub of more than 127 million people, although companies operating there say so far supply chains have been unaffected.

“We’re worried the floods could be worse than two years ago,” Song Xiaowei, an employee of a spare parts factory in the city of Qingyuan, told Reuters. Hundreds of thousands were impacted by disruptive floods after the province saw the heaviest rainfall in six decades in 2022. Mr Song said his factory was still operating but added that he had friends nearby who had already been forced to remove their furniture. “The village opposite has been submerged to the first floor.”