Soldiers scrambled to shore up soggy levies with sandbags Tuesday in southern China as forecasters warned that heavy rain in the central region could trigger more flooding on the country's second-longest river.

At least 63 have been killed in the past month, the official Xinhua news agency reported, noting that flooding has killed 171 since the beginning of the year.

The high waters swamped crop land in the south, forcing farmers to wade into their fields and harvest unripe cucumbers, bitter melons and other vegetables before they spoiled in the water. The natural disaster was driving up food prices that were already soaring before the heavy rains began last month.

This year's flooding in 20 provinces and the western Xinjiang region has forced 1.27 million people to flee their homes, while crop damage was reported on nearly 1 million hectares, Xinhua said.

The hardest-hit provinces included Guangxi, Jiangxi, Hunnan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guizhou, Yunnan, Zhejiang and Anhui.

Manufacturing hub hit hard

In Guangdong, officials reinforced embankments in nine cities, including the provincial capital, Guangzhou, Xinhua said. Local television showed soldiers in green camouflage uniforms lugging large sandbags on their backs as they hurried to build up levies in Guangdong, one of the nation's biggest manufacturing bases.

Shopowners in the south-central Guangdong city of Huizhou tried to salvage soaked goods from the floors of their stores. Local television showed employees of a bank using brooms to push out a thick layer of watery brown muck from their establishment.

State broadcaster CCTV reported about 30,000 people were evacuated in Zhaoqing, a city along the Xijiang River in western Guangdong.

Meanwhile, forecasters were worried about rising waters on central China's Yellow River, the nation's second-longest after the Yangtze River. The country's meteorological department warned that flood-prevention efforts were entering a "crucial phase" because heavy rain over the next few days would raise the threat of flooding on the Yellow River, the state-run China Daily reported.

Provinces on the lower and middle parts of the river, including Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong were in the most danger, the report said.