BEIJING (AP) _ Lower reaches of the swollen Yangtze River were rising early Friday, while in northeastern China about 36,000 people left their homes near the flooding Nenjiang River, state-run media reported.

The seasonal floods that had killed 1,261 people as of Thursday were spreading, despite signs of an abatement in torrential rains that raised the Yangtze, in central China, to its highest level ever in some areas, reports said.

Central stretches of the river, the world's third longest, have swamped much of the region near the industrial centers of Wuhan and Nanjing and further flooding was likely, the newspaper People's Daily warned.

The newspaper, citing meteorologists, noted that between five to seven typhoons were likely to blow inland in August, causing more heavy rains.

The annual floods, which have appeared to increase in intensity in recent years, have raised questions about flood controls along the Yangtze.

Thick silting caused by heavy erosion has raised the riverbed, contributing to the problem, the Xinhua News Agency quoted Flood Control Headquarters officials as saying.

More dredging and construction of more reservoirs and better levees all were needed to help prevent further catastrophes, they said.

All along the Yangtze, millions kept vigil over sodden embankments.

Water levels upstream from Wuhan had begun to fall by Friday as flood crests passed, but downstream the river was still rising, as about 1.3 million residents and soldiers struggled to reinforce waterlogged embankments on the verge of collapse.

In northeastern Heilongjiang province, about 36,000 people were moved to higher ground as hundreds of thousands worked to contain flooding along the Nenjiang river.

But the worst disasters have been in central China. Sixty percent of Hunan province has been flooded, with 15 million people _ a quarter of the population _ affected and 200 people killed, said Wilson Wong of the Hong Kong Red Cross.

Flooded-out families sheltering in plastic covered lean-tos atop dikes might have to wait another month to return home, said Sharilyn Amy, a Red Cross worker in Wuhan.

``We need to gear up for the long haul to maintain the level of support and stave off epidemics,'' Amy said.