Tens of thousands of people were evacuated to safer areas by Monday as heavy rains brought flood risks to a region of southwest China that for most of the summer was devastated by a heatwave and drought. Heavy rain was forecast for parts of Sichuan and Chongqing provinces through at least Tuesday.

Chongqing, a megacity built in a hilly area and that also oversees the surrounding mountains and countryside, issued a flash flood warning for both days. Authorities have moved 61,000 people in Sichuan to safer places since Sunday evening as heavy rain fell overnight, state broadcaster CCTV said Monday.

One village under the jurisdiction of Guangyuan city recorded 18.8 centimeters of rain. The city was one of the two in Sichuan most affected by the drought. The shift in the weather brought some relief from the heat, and full power was restored for factories in Sichuan after two weeks of restrictions stemming from reduced hydropower output.

The rain should help farmers whose rice, hot peppers and other crops were withering during an extended drought that reduced community reservoirs to mostly cracked earth. Temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius in what meteorologists called the strongest heat wave in China since record-keeping began in 1961.

Power restored

Power in Sichuan for commercial and industrial use “has been fully restored,” CCTV said on its website. Household demand for air-conditioning declined as temperatures moderated and the rainfall was starting to replenish hydroelectric reservoirs.

Hydropower generation in the province was up 9.5 per cent from its low point, the state broadcaster reported. Daily power use by households declined by 28 per cent from a peak of 473 to 340 million kilowatt hours, the report said, citing Zhao Hong, marketing director for State Grid's Sichuan subsidiary.

“The contradiction between power supply and demand in Sichuan will be basically resolved in the next three days,” Zhao was quoted as saying. The falling hydropower production prompted Sichuan utilities to step up the use of coal-fired power plants, temporarily setting back efforts to reduce carbon and other emissions.

The share of power in Sichuan that comes from coal has jumped to 25 per cent from 10 per cent with 67 generating stations running at full capacity, according to Caixin, a Chinese business news magazine. Sichuan usually is seen as a clean power success story in China, getting 80 per cent of its power from hydro.