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China: 69 dams in danger after earthquake PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 May 2008

AP, CHENGDU, China - Nearly 70 dams scarred by the force of China's most powerful earthquake in three decades were in danger of bursting, rattled again Sunday by one of the strongest aftershocks since the initial disaster.

Meanwhile, soldiers carrying explosives hiked to a lake formed by a blocked river near the epicenter, hoping to blast through debris to alleviate the threat of floods.

The confirmed death toll from the May 12 quake rose to 62,664, with another 23,775 people missing, the Cabinet said. Premier Wen Jiabao has said the number of dead could surpass 80,000.

An aftershock Sunday afternoon caused office towers to sway in Beijing, 800 miles away. There was no immediate information on any new damage.

The magnitude 5.8 aftershock was among the most powerful recorded, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The China National Seismic Network, which uses a different measurement system, said the aftershock was the strongest of dozens since May 12.

The aftershock lasted about 20 seconds in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu. At one teahouse, customers scurried into an open courtyard. "It's scary, but we're getting used to it," said Mary Nong, a 46-year-old telephone company worker.

The Water Resources Ministry said in a statement Sunday that 69 dams in Sichuan were in danger of collapse. It did not give further details.

The government had earlier said the quake affected 391 dams, mostly small structures.

Sichuan is home to the world's largest water project, the Three Gorges dam, located about 350 miles east of the epicenter. Authorities have said it was not damaged in the quake.

Another issue complicating rescue work has been new lakes that were formed from rivers blocked by landslides unleashed in the quake.

Some 1,600 soldiers and police were hiking to one such lake north of Beichuan, each carrying 22 pounds to blast a hole in the river blockage before it develops into a flood risk, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Bad weather meant they could not use helicopters to get to the lake.

The State Meteorological Bureau said Sunday that parts of Sichuan would suffer "heavy and even in some areas torrential rains" later Sunday and Monday, warning of possible mudslides.

State television reported that a survivor trapped by the initial quake was rescued alive Friday, more than 11 days after the disaster.

Xiao Zhihu, an 80-year-old bedridden man, was found in Mianzhu north of Chengdu after being trapped in his collapsed house, the report said. He survived because his wife was able to get food to him through the rubble, but there were no further details given or a reason for the two-day delay in reporting the rescue.

Some people paused Sunday to attend church almost two weeks after the quake hit. In Chengdu, worshippers gathered at the Ping'an Bridge Catholic church to say prayers for the victims.

A collection plate was passed around, and people gave everything from a the equivalent of a few cents to 100 renminbi ($15) notes.

One worshipper, 58-year-old retiree Liang Biqing, said the disaster had changed her views on China's place in the world and shown her that people globally all share the same troubles.

"This shows that there are no barriers, no nationalities, when it comes to disasters," she said.

The first of eight Russian military transport planes carrying tents, medicine and food landed Sunday in Chengdu, the country's ITAR-Tass news agency said. Other aid flights were expected to arrive by Monday.

Sri Lanka has also sent tents, clothes and other relief materials, Xinhua reported.

China desperately needs tents to house quake victims, with more than 15 million homes destroyed in the disaster.

Panda keepers at the Wolong Nature Reserve, a major breeding center for the endangered animals near the epicenter, said Sunday they had averted a food crisis. Fresh bamboo was being trucked in for the pandas, center official Zhou Xiaoping told Xinhua.

"The road conditions are very bad and transportation takes much longer than normal. But thank goodness, the worst food crisis is almost over," Zhou said.

Two pandas were still unaccounted for after the quake.

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