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China floods claim 280,000 homes

China has mobilized a vast army of hundreds of thousands of peasants to strengthen dikes along the Yangtze River as rainstorms threaten the country with some of the worst flooding this century.

In Jiangsu province alone, 130,000 people have been organized into teams, hauling rocks and gathering materials to build up the dike walls, the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday. "People are ready for a fight," it said.

Separately, Xinhua said 10,000 troops had been rushed to disaster areas in trucks and small boats.

In one incident a group of soldiers trekked on foot along roads blocked by mudslides to rescue 14,000 people trapped on rooftops in Hunan province. Elsewhere in the province, the military blew up a dam to lower water levels in the Yuan River and save a population of 100,000 people.

Forecasters blame global warming for melting snow and ice on a plateau in western China, swelling the Yangtze and its tributaries. Serious breaches of the intricate network of dikes along the river system could bring catastrophe to millions of peasants.

Residents contacted by phone in the city of Shangrao, one of the worst-hit areas of Jiangxi province, said water was head-high during the worst flooding last week.

"The ground floors of many houses were completely inundated," said Guo Yuanyuan, a teacher at Shangrao No. 1 Middle School. She said people had to swim from their homes and dormitories to buy food.

The Farmer's Daily reported that 387 people had died in the floods in Hunan province. Almost 17-million people had been affected by the destruction and more than 280,000 homes had collapsed.

A total of 659,000 acres of cropland had been laid to waste, with the damage estimated at $1.7-billion.