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China tries to keep earthquake-formed lake under control

Body of water continues to swell

Earthquake survivors settled into new homes yesterday as a few start to move into the next phase of temporary shelters in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province, China. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless and the death toll is over 69,000. Earthquake survivors settled into new homes yesterday as a few start to move into the next phase of temporary shelters in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province, China. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless and the death toll is over 69,000. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Audra Ang
Associated Press / June 10, 2008

HONGYE VILLAGE, China - A quake-formed lake continued to swell yesterday even though soldiers used dynamite and antitank weapons to blow up boulders in a diversion channel to try to speed its drainage.

Authorities remained on alert after yet another aftershock jarred the Tangjiashan lake, which could flood more than 1.3 million people downstream if the water flow is not controlled.

Military engineers fired ammunition at massive rocks in a spillway dug to relieve pressure on the unstable barrier blocking the river, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Soldiers have also used 3 tons of dynamite over the past couple of days to blow up boulders and double the width of the channel to 33 feet, the report said.

The flow in the channel increased after more than 10 explosions, but it was still not keeping up with the water gushing into the lake from the blocked river behind the dam.

Yesterday, about 120 People's Liberation Army troops were sent to reinforce the operation to drain the lake, which formed when a landslide set off by the powerful May 12 earthquake blocked the flow of the Tongkou River. Crews were deepening the diversion channel and digging a second spillway, Xinhua said.

The water level was more than 6 feet above the mouth of the spillway and rising, Xinhua said. Authorities were on alert for threats to the dam's stability including increased rainfall, new aftershocks and landslides that could deposit rubble in the lake and push water levels even higher.

More than 250,000 people downstream from Tangjiashan lake have already been evacuated in recent weeks. Many were living in improvised camps on surrounding hillsides, surviving on instant noodles and suffering from heat, mosquitoes, and a lack of water for bathing.

Lu Raoxuang, a farmer in Hongye village about 30 miles downstream from Tangjiashan, said authorities forced him up a nearby hillside one day late last month when he returned home from tending his crops. He said he wasn't even allowed to wash his face before evacuating his two-story brick and concrete home, which was badly damaged in the quake.

The villagers in Lu's camp are free to move about during the day, and he regularly returns to check on his home. But the wiry 58-year-old farmer said he is not allowed to tend to his crops, leaving his corn and sweet potatoes neglected in the field.

"Our land is down here, I don't want to leave my land," Lu said. "I just have to wait for the water and see if it really floods. I'm really worried. I don't know what my future is."

Managing the lake is the latest challenge for the Chinese government, which is already shouldering the burden of caring for the 5 million left homeless by the disaster. As of yesterday, the death toll in the May 12 quake was 69,142, with 17,551 people still missing.

But efforts to control the lake have been hampered by aftershocks. A magnitude 5.0 quake rattled parts of the disaster zone yesterday afternoon, including the Tangjiashan lake. Rocks rolled down mountainsides and the dam shook, Xinhua reported, but added that the dam held.

The 10-second temblor sent people in the hard-hit county of Wenchuan rushing out of shaking buildings and tents, Xinhua said. There were no reports of damage or casualties. The aftershock followed one of the same magnitude the day before.

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