MIANCHUAN, Jiangxi - Looking at hundreds of soldiers using rocks to reinforce the banks of their island in the fast-rising Yangtze River gave a group of islanders pause.
It portends, they said, a return of the massive floods of 1998.
The bank here is not slope-like, although the water, they said, is just two meters deep around their homes. But the riverbed, they noted, falls abruptly to 30 meters deep three or four meters away.
"We can't see through the water," said one of the residents named Jiang Bing, who is in his 60s. "I'm worried about whether the bank had been washed shallow by the running water."
The island, Mianchuan, which literally means "cotton boat" in English, is a river plane with natural sandy banks in Pengzhe county of Jiujiang city in the downstream regions of the Yangtze River.
In 1998, its banks collapsed and toppled several houses here, locals said.
The level of the water enclosing Mianchuan has kept rising above the warning level - 17.7 meters - consistently since late June, measuring 18.95 meters on Thursday morning, a local official said.
A 200-meter-long section of the bank, she added, was currently in "danger of collapse" for soaking too long underwater, while locals said a four-meter-long bank section had slid into the river on Sunday.
Tong Qingyuan, the director of Jiujiang city flood control and drought relief office, said the sandy bank of the river plain was of the "lowest standard", and that the dikes were built only to protect the farmland, not the 42,000 people living there.
Moreover, he said, the island was not on the list for embankment management of the Yangtze River reaches, thus leaving heavy responsibility with local officials.
The flow of the Yangtze River's upper reaches has topped an alarming 70,000 cubic meters per second at the Three Gorges Dam since Tuesday - about 20,000 cubic meters more than the flow during the 1998 flooding that killed 2,140 people.
A geological survey official in Mianchuan said the increase in flow from upstream would exert extra pressure here, but refused to elaborate on the extent.
It takes the flood peak five to seven days to wash from the Three Gorges Dam to Jiujiang, Tong said.
Discharges from the Three Gorges Dam have already surged from 25,000 cm/s to 32,000 cm/s on July 15 - and, as of Tuesday morning, to 40,000 cm/s.
The China Three Gorges Corporation on Tuesday said the discharge amount will remain at that level for the coming days.
Locals said people residing near the banks in Mianchuan had been ordered to stay at homes in the inner parts of the island since July 7.
"Police come knocking on the doors every night to check if everyone has moved out," Jiang said.
Local marine authorities had also recently banned ships from navigating 20 meters offshore to avoid stirring waves impairing the bank.
Since the water level has yet to reach the 20 meters equal to the 1998 flood levels, many people have remained calm. Others, however, have worried a lot.
"My family worked 20 years to buy this house. We can't leave, this is our home," said 57-year-old local Huang Fang, whose house is less than 10 meters away from the spot that collapsed in 1998.
A 300-strong troop contingent from the Nanjing military command was deployed to the island on July 16. In recent days, the local government had asked them to throw 30,000 cubic meters of rocks to reinforce the bank.
The Pengzhe county chief said 20 percent of the mission had been competed as of Wednesday.
"The water flows fast. Smaller rocks have to be loaded in steel-wire cases to avoid being washed away," battalion commander Xu Wendong said.