Rains lash southern China as rising rivers threaten more flooding

BEIJING (Reuters) -Days of torrential rain, flash floods and landslides across southern China forced authorities to step up emergency plans, as surging waters from swollen rivers threatened to disrupt the lives of millions.

As of Thursday, at least nine people had died in Guangdong province's city of Meizhou and another six were missing there amid the worst floods on record on the Songyuan and Shiku rivers, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Guangdong upgraded an emergency response plan for landslides, flooding and other disasters to the second-highest level, helping to coordinate and deploy resources across the flood-stricken province.

Several other provinces have already activated a Level-IV emergency response. China's flood control emergency response system has four levels, with Level-I being the most severe.

The annual flooding season started earlier in China this year, as southern provinces faced intense storms that have swept away bridges and destroyed low-rise homes, devastated agricultural output and submerged numerous cities.

Authorities in Guilin, a major city in Guangxi in southwest China, raised a "red" flood warning signal, the highest level, late on Wednesday when the water level of the Li River, which runs through the city, reached 3.61 metres above the warning line, China Daily reported on Thursday.

The water level at the river's hydrological station in Rongjiang township hit a record high, threatening lives and properties along the river, the report said.

Guilin authorities urged officials at departments, townships and scenic spots to help prevent and combat possible flooding in the coming days as water levels at major rivers continue to rise, according to state media.

Guilin Railway station officials suspended operations of some trains, and trains passing through some lines will be delayed, according to a statement from its official Weibo social media account.

The central government in Beijing has earmarked 346 million yuan ($48.6 million) in disaster relief funds to assist flood control and drought relief efforts, according to Xinhua news agency.

Moderate to heavy rain is expected to start again Friday through Monday in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, the longest waterway in Asia, according to China's Central Meteorological Observatory.

Several areas could see more torrential rain over the next two weeks as a lingering rain belt moves northward, according to the National Meteorological Center, state media reported.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr, Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Andrew Heavens)