Over a million wait as China poised to drain 'quake lake'
Sunday, 01 June 2008

AFP, MIANYANG - China was poised on Saturday to drain a dangerous "quake lake" in an attempt to avert a disaster that could have flooded the homes of over a million people.

Authorities started to helicopter workers away from a dam that was caused by quake-induced landslides after hundreds of soldiers finished an enormous drainage channel.

Water trapped in the lake in Tangjiashan was expected to start flowing out as soon as Saturday afternoon, according to Luo Haolong, a commander of the water resources section of the police working on the site.

"This afternoon, the water will flow again," said Luo. "Experts say we are ready to break through and allow the river to flow."
Other officials said that the breach may not happen for a few days, but they appeared confident their efforts would eliminate the risk of a disastrous flood.

"The lake problem is under control, we do not have any fears that there will be an uncontrollable flood," Han Guijun, a top official in quake-devastated Beichuan county, told AFP.

More than 197,000 people have been evacuated in case of flooding, an official from nearby Mianyang city told AFP, but there was still concern for the more than a million people living downstream.

Residents said people had been ordered to move at least 30 metres above the level of the river as a precautionary measure.
Despite the warnings, tents where residents have been sleeping since the tremor remained in place along the banks of the Fujiang river in Mianyang city, the largest population centre below the Tangjiashan quake lake.

"So far we have received no orders to remove the tents," a local policeman told AFP. "If the order comes to move them, then we will move them."

The local government cancelled an emergency evacuation drill scheduled for Saturday, while China's central television said earlier plans to use explosives to breach the lake had been abandoned.

Dealing with the "quake lake" has become one of the most pressing issues in the aftermath of the May 12 earthquake that killed more than 68,500 people, with over 18,000 still missing.

Threats to the environment if the dam burst remained a concern, with state media reporting that radioactive and chemical materials were being moved from the potential flood zone.

There were also 33 other lakes in Sichan province created by the quake, 28 of which were at risk of bursting, the official Xinhua news agency reported earlier.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said late Friday that authorities had dispatched thousands of people to inspect businesses in quake-hit areas, finding some with possible environmental risks.

Of 14,357 companies, including some 2,900 chemical firms, surveyed in Sichuan province, inspectors found 134 potential risks, Xinhua news agency said, quoting a statement on the ministry's website on Friday.

Damaged buildings -- schools in particular -- that were still standing presented another risk after thousands of children were killed when their classrooms were destroyed by the quake.

Local authorities were ordered to conduct safety appraisals of all remaining school buildings in the affected area, Xinhua news agency quoted the State Council as saying.

Those buildings whose construction design violated the law would be punished, the State Council said.

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