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SHANGHAI: Soldiers erected sandbag flood barriers in a city near China's largest freshwater lake after the heaviest rainfall in nearly six decades drenched the swollen Yangtze River basin.

The vast Yangtze drainage area has been lashed by torrential rains since last month, leaving 141 people dead or missing and forcing the evacuation of millions more across several provinces.

Flooding along the river - the world's third longest - has been an annual summer scourge since ancient times, but this year's inundation has been especially severe.

The downpours have intensified since last week, causing dozens of Yangtze-basin waterways to post record-high water levels, while more than 400 had exceeded warning levels, Vice Minister of Emergency Management Zheng Guoguang said on Monday.

"Since June, average precipitation in the Yangtze river basin has been the highest since 1961," he told a news briefing in Beijing.

Authorities had been monitoring a flood crest as it neared Wuhan, the metropolis of 11 million that the Yangtze winds through and which had already suffered the vast number of China's deaths and cases in the coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged in the city.

They said river levels were decreasing after the crest passed Wuhan on Monday with no reports of major new flooding there. Concern was now shifting downstream to Poyang Lake, which drains into the Yangtze in hard-hit Jiangxi province and is the largest freshwater lake fully within China's borders.

State-run Xinhua news agency said water levels at a key hydrological station on the lake broke a record set in 1998, when more than 4,000 people were killed in China's worst flooding in recent decades.

State media reported that more than 100,000 people - including rescue personnel, soldiers, and ordinary citizens - had been thrown into flood-control efforts in Jiangxi.