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South China flood toll surges

People walk across a flood-damaged road in Guangdong province.



(CNN) -- The death toll from heavy flooding across parts of China this month has risen to 536, according to Chinese authorities quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Damage has been worst in the south, where torrential rain and mudslides have killed at least 97 people this week, Xinhua reported on Friday.

Another 137 people were missing as of late Thursday, after a week of heavy rains and flooding across 22 provinces and regions, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief said.

The official figure of 536 is believed to cover floods in all parts of China, though the focus this week has been on the torrential rains in the south.

At least 117 people, more than 100 of them students, died in a flood in Heilgjiang province in China's northeast between June 10-14.

This week, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes, with the worst-hit areas being the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

The Office of State Flood Control put the economic cost of the floods at 20.35 billion yuan ($2.45 billion), a report on Xinhua's Web site said.

It reported that along with damage to 31 million hectares of crops, the floods had damaged dikes, reservoirs, roads and rail lines.

It said the heavy rains caused the collapse of the Longchuan-Huzhou section of the Beijing-Kowloon (Hong Kong) railway on Tuesday.

The line was closed and repair work was still being carried out, affecting the travel plans of at least 20,000 people. Thousands of passengers also were stranded or delayed at Guangzhou airport.

In Fujian province, passengers were missing after a bus was swept away by flood waters, state media reported.

In the industrial city of Wuzhou, the Xijiang river on Thursday rose to 26.75 meters, nearly 9.45 meters above the warning level.

"The worst flooding on record was seen on the Mengjiang, a tributary of the Xijiang River (in Guangxi)," a national flood control official was quoted as saying.

And there may be more to come with heavy rain forecast to hit south and southeast China at least until the end of the week.

The central government has sent more than 2,000 troops to help with flood control efforts in Wuzhou and sent Guangxi 20 million yuan ($2.4 million) in emergency relief funds, Xinhua reported. Another 15 million yuan had been sent to Fujian.

China's flood season usually lasts from June to August. The latest severe disaster claimed 117 lives in mid-June in Shalan township in Ning'an, a city in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province, according to statistics released on Friday by the China Meteorological Administration.

With much of southern China under threat, Premier Wen Jiabao has urged local governments to step up the fight against the flooding, which kills hundreds in China each summer and causes millions of yuan in damage to homes and crops.

In Hong Kong, which is in the middle of its summer typhoon season, it has been raining heavily for weeks.

But in the north, the Chinese capital Beijing is in the grip of a heatwave and drought, with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) and power usage at record levels as people switch on air conditioners.

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