Second disaster in China: water
The Chinese government warned Monday that as many as 1. 2 million residents might have to be evacuated because they could be inundated by...
Los Angeles Times
MIANYANG, China — The Chinese government warned Monday that as many as 1.2 million residents might have to be evacuated because they could be inundated by a swelling "barrier lake" formed by the May 12 earthquake.
The notice was issued hours after a Russian helicopter transported heavy machines over mountains in the northern part of Sichuan province, and hundreds of Chinese soldiers carried in 10 tons of dynamite, to contend with the barrier lake at Tangjiashan, about two miles upstream from the town of Beichuan.
The troops didn't arrive until late Monday, and the blasting was not expected until today at the earliest. The lake, fed by the Qingzhu River, lay two miles upstream from the center of Beichuan county.
The Tangjiashan lake is one of dozens caused when the quake sent millions of tons of earth and rock tumbling into some of the region's narrow valleys. Rising waters already have swallowed some villages.
"The water was covering the road, and two days later I could not see the roof of my house anymore," said Liu Zhongfu, standing on a hillside looking down at another of the new lakes, which covered the town of Shuangdian.
Pressure is building behind the mounds of earth and rubble as rivers and streams feed into the newly formed lakes. Officials fear the walls of loose soil and debris could crumble easily, especially once the water level reaches the top and begins cascading over.
Adding to the threat, thunderstorms were forecast for parts of Sichuan this week — a preview of the coming summer rainy season that accounts for more than 70 percent of the 2 feet of rain that falls on the area each year.
Monday's flood warning, broadcast on local television, made for another jittery day in Mianyang, a Sichuan province municipality of 5 million people that includes some of the hardest-hit areas in the earthquake zone, including Beichuan.
Hopes of normality returning to the region had been set back by Sunday's magnitude 6 aftershock, centered north of here, which killed eight people and destroyed or damaged 270,000 houses.
According to Monday's warning, in the worst-case scenario, in which the entire barrier collapsed, about 1.2 million people would be ordered to move to higher ground, including some in central Mianyang. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated.
The warning prompted some people to haul their tents to higher ground and others to flee Mianyang altogether.
"Some of my friends are leaving town; they want to go as far away as possible," said Liu Decai, 35, a taxi driver who drove home after the broadcast to pack up jewelry and other valuables.
China's central government continued to stress the importance of resettling victims, restoring production and rebuilding devastated areas. About 5 million people were left homeless by the quake, which has claimed more than 65,000 lives, with 23,150 people still missing.
In addition, more than 306,000 were injured by the quake.
As of Sunday, 5,914 patients were moved from overloaded hospitals in Sichuan province to medical centers elsewhere in the country, with another 2,100 still to be transferred, said the Ministry of Health.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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