By  on June 20, 2008

HUIZHOU, China — As the flood waters subside, life and work have started to resume in the factory towns of the Pearl River Delta — but the damage remains.

"I've been living in the area for many years, but I've never seen anything like this flood," said Yang Dingkuan, a construction worker in one of the dozens of manufacturing towns outside of Shenzhen. "It's going to take a long time for this place to get back to normal."

Yang, who was helping to build a house, pointed to landslides and flood pools dotting the countryside, pausing on a newly built concrete factory workers' dormitory that had cracked vertically in half during the torrential rains that pounded the region during the past week. The dorm, he said, will have to be demolished and built anew.

The recent floods, the worst to hit this part of China in half a century, killed at least 63 people in the region and left more than $2 billion in direct economic losses in their wake. Though most factories in the region were cranking back into operation this week after electricity was restored, factory floors mopped up and machinery dried out, some 2.5 million acres of farmland were submerged, according to Chinese government figures. The government also said an estimated 7.5 million people have been directly affected by flooding so far this year.

That vast damage to farms is already adding to China's inflation troubles. Shopkeeper He Binlan said vegetable prices have been multiplied by three or four times since the rains hit, adding immense financial burdens to local residents already struggling to replace lost homes and property. China's national inflation rate has grown at record levels in recent months, rising 7.7 percent in May.

"I don't think the prices will go down soon, because the farmers can't grow new crops that quickly," said He.

The damage to factories seems more limited. While many workshops in the area have been closed for lack of orders due to the rise in the value of the Chinese yuan and other economic pressures, other plants reported only temporary impact on their production from the flooding. But a few major producers — including Honda, which operates large plants in southern China — have reported serious disruptions.The larger economic impact may come from the sheer human scale of the flooding. More than one million people across southern China were initially evacuated because of the floods and hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged. Home and flood insurance are virtually nonexistent in rural China, so the rebuilding is apt to consume vast government resources.

For now, flood victims aren't sure how they'll rebuild. The family of Zhang Ruiliang fled to the second floor of their shop/home as the waters rose to about 7 feet inside their house on the night of June 13. The rain was pouring in so hard and fast they could do little but watch as the torrents carried their furniture away.

"We don't even have chairs to sit on now," said Zhang's wife, Ling Lou.

As for what's next, Zhang said the family is waiting to hear from the government whether they will get any assistance with restoring their home. The inside is pungent with mildew and half of their possessions are simply gone.

"It's all up to us now," said Zhang. "There's not anyone to help us and we haven't heard of any government compensation."

The severe flooding comes at a bad time for China, which is accustomed to heavy spring and summer flooding. But the storms that struck the Pearl River Delta were particularly devastating and followed on the heels of what now seems to be an unstoppably bad year for the country.

The New Year opened with freak snowstorms in January that halted production, logistics and passenger travel across a wide swath of the south during the most important holiday of the year. In March, turmoil in Tibet cast a harsh new spotlight on the government's human rights record. Then on May 12 China suffered its worst natural disaster in decades with a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan Province that killed at least 70,000 people.

With the floods, many across China are sighing in agreement that 2008 — the year of the country's first Olympics — is indeed a very bad year.

"It's a difficult year for China," said Yang.

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