Flood fears in China's east as rain swells Yangtze River levels

BEIJING (Reuters) - Rising water levels in the Yangtze River following intense rains in southern China have prompted eastern regions downstream to prepare for possible flooding.

Water levels in the Jiangsu section of China's longest river continued to rise on Wednesday as a result of the increased flow from its upper reaches as well as the persistent rainfall.

Nanjing, the capital of China's eastern Jiangsu province issued its second highest flood warning and authorities banned various vessels, including passenger ferries, from entering or operating in the river's Jiangsu section, state media reported.

China's Ministry of Water Resources had said on Tuesday that water levels in sections of the middle and lower courses of the Yangtze River exceeded the warning mark.

Water levels at Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province, where authorities had activated a second-level response for flood control since Tuesday night, were also being closely watched.

The country's largest freshwater lake logged its highest water level in July 2020 at 22.7 metres.

Heavy rainfall pounded parts of central China's Hunan province earlier this week, causing the Miluo River in Pingjiang county to swell to its highest level in 70 years.

Local authorities in Hunan activated the maximum emergency response level and state media showed large parts of its town waterlogged, as well as stranded people being rescued on boats.

About 340,000 people in China were affected and businesses were hit. A factory producing spicy snacks said it would shut for five days affected by water outages, traffic blockages and disrupted communication lines.

The rain is expected to begin dissipating from the southern regions, and forecasters said warmer temperatures could follow as rain clouds that kept areas cooler than normal drift away.

The rain belt causing floods in areas around the middle and lower course of China's Yangtze River will begin to shift northwards from Wednesday night.

Torrential rain is expected in provinces including Sichuan, Chongqing, and parts of Hubei, Henan and Shandong, China's National Meteorological Center said.

The rainfall would be welcome in northern areas afflicted with drought, but continuous rains may cause secondary disasters, weather experts warned in the national forecast.

(This story has been corrected to change Poyang Lake's record water level to 22.7 metres, not 22.6 metres, in paragraph 6)

(Reporting by Liz Lee, Ella Cao and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Alexander Smith)