The rescue of 40 half-starved people from a remote village 16 days after China’s earthquake provided a rare piece of good news yesterday as rain threatened more misery for millions of survivors.
A military helicopter plucked the villagers from their quake-shattered mountain homes on Wednesday after the group survived on little more than rice and wild herbs, state press reported.
Their rescue was the latest in a string of extraordinary survival stories that have emerged from the horror of the May 12 quake in Sichuan Province, which killed more than 68,000 people and displaced more than 15 million others.
But the enormous scope of dealing with the its aftermath remained the main focus yesterday, as the danger of potentially devastating floods rose again with steady rain falling across the quake zone.
The most pressing priority is the draining of a so-called “quake lake,” a massive body of water sitting above millions of people that was formed after the huge tremor triggered landslides and blocked a river.
Officials have warned that rainfall would further swell the lake at Tangjiashan and, if it burst, flash floods would sweep across large tracts of Sichuan, bringing with it torrents of rubble from the quake.
Rescue workers have already evacuated 158,000 people in the most imminent danger from any breach of the lake at Tangjiashan.
As earth-movers continued the delicate task of clearing a channel for a controlled release of the water, officials forged ahead with an all-out effort to prepare areas downstream for a massive evacuation.
In the hard-hit city of Mianyang, authorities have put residents through repeated evacuation drills.
“The efforts are aimed at getting all 1.3 million residents on the move within four hours in case the quake lake’s bank fully opens,” said the city’s Communist Party chief, Tan Li.
The 40 survivors rescued on Wednesday came from Yangjiakou Village, which is about 20km from the nearest town.
The survivors, who included local villagers and a group of mining company workers, were flown to a nearby temporary camp for earthquake survivors, the West China Metropolitan Daily reported.
Meanwhile, a former Chinese professor who said he was detained for 10 days for articles he wrote criticizing the government’s response to the deadly earthquake has been freed.
Guo Quan (郭泉), who was released on Wednesday, is the first known case of someone being detained for quake-related criticism. Other detentions reported by state media have been of people accused of spreading rumors of future quakes.
The articles by Guo said the Chinese government ignored warning signs before the May 12 quake, and that officials should have immediately responded to the danger of lakes formed by the quake that now threaten to burst. He also questioned the safety of nuclear facilities in the area.
At least one of his articles was published by the Epoch Times, a US-based newspaper.
Guo has already been in trouble with police for founding the China New Democracy Party last year and claiming it had 10 million members in China and overseas.
He also gained headlines earlier this year by threatening to sue Yahoo and Google in the US, accusing them of blocking his name from search results in China.
Guo, reached by phone yesterday in Nanjing, said police told him his detention was mainly for his quake-related articles.
“I’m used to this kind of thing,” Guo, 48, said of the police treatment.
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