Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated near a dangerously swelling lake in south western China. Efforts are underway to drain the lake to avert a new disaster. The lake in Beichuan County is one of several so called "quake lakes" formed in the aftermath of the May 12 earth quake, which has killed more than 68,000 people.
Thousands are being evacuated in southwest China's Sichuan province because of the risk of flooding
Soldiers are using explosives to blast the Tangjiashan Lake in Beichuan County. The lake is almost two weeks old and was created by a landslide after this month’s devastating earthquake. Local officials say if it overflows it will threaten more than 1.3 million lives in the area and could cause immense damage.
An estimated 1800 troops and engineers have been deployed in the area near the lake. They are all armed with at least 10 kilograms of explosives. Bulldozers and cranes have been flown into the area by helicopters.
Race against the Time
Engineers and soldiers have been taking turns to work round the clock, removing debris and digging a channel to release the water trapped by rubble and rocks. Engineer Jiao Yong describes the process: “We are digging and blasting the debris simultaneously. With heavy equipment we are trying to carve out a channel and when we meet obstacles then we blow them up.”
It is a race against the time. The lake now holds more than 130 million cubic metres of water. But the level is rising by 1 to 2 meters daily making it more dangerous day by day. Liu Ning is the chief engineer at the Ministry of Water Resources: “As it has been raining in parts of the earth quake affected area, there is an immediate threat of flooding. We have to prevent this at any cost. On the one hand we are working towards averting this new disaster, on the other hand we are also trying to evacuate people from the region. The local authorities have been given instructions about the preparations that they should make in case the lake bursts. If we work together, we'll be able to minimise the damage.”
Drills to alert people
Local officials have been holding repeated drills in Sichuan province, telling people to evacuate the area if the lake bursts. Public announcements have been made and residents have been warned to vacate their homes in 20 minutes and seek higher ground in the worst-case scenario. An estimated 158,000 people from high risk areas have already been relocated. Earlier Premier Wen Jiabao held a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and emphasised the need to handle the danger with a sense of urgency.
Meanwhile engineers estimate the process of digging up the debris can take at least 5-10days. But they also say that they are prepared with contingency plans, in case the situation worsens.