China’s longest river has risen more than 50ft (15m) above flood level, as the country struggles with some of the most severe flooding in years.
At least 14 people have died and tens of thousands of others evacuated as central and southern parts of China are ravaged by floods caused by torrential rain.
Communities along the Yangtze, which flows from west to east, have been the worst affected by the annual monsoon season.
Three floodgates of the Three Gorges Dam that spans the Yangtze were opened as the water level behind the massive structure rose more than 15m above flood level, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The dam was holding back about 45% of the water, it said.
Earlier this week, authorities warned the country was entering a “critical period” with some 433 rivers affected by the floods – 33 of them reaching record water levels.
China’s ministry of water resources said the situation along the Yangtze, as well as Dongting Lake in Hunan province, and Poyang Lake and Taihu Lake in Jiangxi province, was “severe”.
The Yangtze is an important waterway in the country, irrigating large areas of farmland and linking industries along its inland corridor with the financial hub of Shanghai on China’s central eastern coast.
Images showed residents building makeshift barriers with sandbags and rocks to keep the floodwaters at bay.
Eleven people were killed in Chongqing, China National Emergency Broadcasting reported. More than 20,000 people had been evacuated and 1,031 homes destroyed.
Three landslides in Dunhao town in a mountainous part of Chongqing left six dead, the city’s Emergency Management Bureau said.
Three others died in neighbouring Hubei province, the emergency management department said.
Firefighters and workers finished filling in a 620ft break in a dyke on Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, Xinhua said.
The dyke gave way nine days ago, flooding 15 villages and farmland in Jiangxi province. More than 14,000 people were evacuated.
Poyang Lake, which is formed from the overspill of the Yangtze, is 2.5m higher than its warning level and has swelled by more than 2,000 sq km (772 square miles) during this flood season.
It comes as China continues to deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Major cities have been spared from the flooding so far.
However on Friday, the central city of Wuhan – where the coronavirus emerged late last year – and the provinces of Anhui, Jiangxi and Zhejiang declared red alerts as heavy rain swelled rivers and lakes.