China evacuated tens of thousands of people in quake-hit Sichuan Province yesterday, as troops battled to dig through a natural dam that threatened to burst and flood the area.
State media said more than 70,000 people were evacuated early yesterday in Sichuan’s Beichuan County and that another 80,000 would move to safer areas by midnight.
More than 100 military engineers set off for the dam in Sichuan’s Tangjiashan area yesterday to join hundreds of soldiers already working on water diversion plans.
“It’s better for them to complain about the trouble that the evacuation would bring than to shed tears after the possible danger,” Liu Ning (劉寧), a Ministry of Water Resources official, was quoted as saying.
The troops and excavators had to be dropped by helicopter since a huge landslide on May 12 blocked a river and cut all roads to the area.
They were trying to construct a 200m sluice to drain the lake, which had risen to just 26m below the top of the lowest part of the dam by Monday.
The water in the lake rose by another 1.8m yesterday and was expected to continue rising by about 2m per day. Nearly 362,000 people were injured.
The formation of the lake and 34 similar ones has brought new fears to hundreds of thousands of survivors of the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake that is thought to have killed at least 80,000 people.
The government said yesterday the confirmed death toll had reached 67,183, with 20,790 still missing and 15 million evacuated.
The Tangjishan lake held an estimated 130 million cubic meters of water, the agency quoted Liu as saying.
Three emergency plans were drawn up for digging the sluice, depending on weather conditions and how quickly the troops were able to work, a military official told the agency.
An aftershock measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale also shook the area yesterday afternoon, one of the more powerful of thousands of aftershocks to hit the area since May 12. The troops were expected to finish the sluice by June 5.
Mianyang, which includes Beichuan and where more than 16,000 people have died in the quake, replaced its mayor on Monday, but it was unclear if it was related to any dereliction of duty in relief work.
The massive relief effort, which involves food, tents and clothing for millions, as well as reconstructing housing and getting help to isolated villages, is expected to take up to three years.
The most powerful of thousands of aftershocks killed at least eight people on Sunday, hampering relief efforts and terrifying quake survivors. Another aftershock in the same area, in Qingchuan, yesterday measured 5.4 on the Richter scale, state television said.
The biggest appeal is for tents for 15 million displaced people as the weather turns warmer and wetter, risking the spread of disease.
Vice Health Minister Gao Qiang (高強) said that within a month, 900,000 tents would be distributed. Within three months, 1 million temporary housing units would be supplied.
“And we will not just focus on housing, there are also hospitals and schools for which we will find a way to provide 500,000 more units,” he said. “We will make sure that these evacuees have a more comfortable place to stay before the cold weather sets in.”