SHANGHAI: Floods on the upper reaches of China’s Yangtze river forced authorities to evacuate more than 100,000 people on Tuesday and threatened a 1,200-year-old world heritage site.

Staff, police and volunteers used sandbags to try to protect the 71-metre (233-foot) Leshan Giant Buddha, a Unesco World Heritage site in southwestern Sichuan province, as muddy flood water rose over its toes for the first time since 1949, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Sichuan, through which the Yangtze river flows, raised its emergency response to the maximum level on Tuesday to cope with a new round of torrential rainfall.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

The Yangtze Water Resources Commission, the government body that oversees the river, declared a red alert late on Tuesday, saying water at some monitoring stations was expected to exceed “guaranteed” flood protection levels by over 5 metres.

The Three Gorges Project, a massive hydroelectric facility designed in part to tame floods on the Yangtze, is expected to see water inflows rise to 74,000 cubic metres per second on Wednesday, the highest since it was built, the Ministry of Water Resources said.

The project restricts the amount of water flowing downstream by storing it in its reservoir, which has been over 10 metres higher than its official warning level for more than a month.

The facility was forced to raise water discharge volumes on Tuesday in order to “reduce flood control pressures”, the water ministry said.

Authorities have been at pains to show that the cascade of giant dams and reservoirs built along the Yangtze’s upper reaches have shielded the region from the worst of the floods this year, though critics say they might be making things worse.

Floods in mountainous southwest have washed away roads and forced tens of thousands from their homes, with authorities warning the giant Three Gorges Dam was facing the largest flood peak in its history.

Footage on state broadcaster CCTV showed murky water lapping at the feet of the Leshan Giant Buddha — a 71m-tall figure carved into a cliffside in Sichuan province.The rising tide washed over rows of sandbags installed to protect the statue — a Unesco world heritage site and popular tourist destination that overlooks three converging rivers.

Video footage showed soldiers evacuating residents wearing lifejackets — many of them elderly — from Fengzhou county opposite the statue, helping them climb into a boat.

Around 1,020 people had been stranded in Fengzhou, suffering food and water shortages after floodwaters cut off road traffic, state news agency Xinhua said.

More than 100,000 people have been evacuated as the cities of Ya’an and Leshan were hit by floods, it added.

State media footage also showed tree trunks and lower branches submerged in water, and in one dramatic shot a small building collapsed into rushing floodwaters and was carried away.

Another Unesco world heritage site, the Jiuzhaigou National Park, said it would temporarily close due to safety concerns.

Elsewhere in Sichuan, 21 vehicles fell into a large hole caused by a collapsed road early on Wednesday, although the state-run Global Times said there were no injuries.

Xinhua said floodwaters were expected to hit the downstream metropolis of Chongqing later this week.