May 30 (Bloomberg) — China is ordering the evacuation of up to 1.3 million people as a lake formed after the country’s deadliest earthquake in 32 years threatens to burst its banks, flooding a nearby city, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Tangjiashan, the biggest of more than 30 lakes created after landslides caused by the May 12 quake blocked rivers, is in an “extremely dangerous” state, the Ministry of Water Resources said on its Web site today.
The evacuation order was given by Tan Li, the Communist Party Secretary of Mianyang city and the head of the city’s earthquake control and relief headquarters, Xinhua said. People living in the area have been ordered to move to higher ground earmarked by the local government, the report said.
“We are working to divert more water and today we’ve had to evacuate 200,000 people downstream of the lake who will be affected by the diversion,” an official at the Tangjiashan quake lake emergency command center, surnamed Pu, told Bloomberg News in a telephone interview. “We will start evacuating the rest of the people if we see further danger that the lake will burst its banks.”
The lake is so far under control, Pu said. Drills to evacuate up to 1.3 million people will take place from tomorrow until June 2 under a scenario where the lake will burst and send waters flooding down a valley up to 50 kilometers long, reaching Mianyang city and Santai county, he said.
The lake holds 173.3 million cubic meters (45.7 billion gallons) of water, an increase of 12.9 million cubic meters from yesterday, the Ministry of Water Resources said today.
Chinese military engineers and soldiers are working in 24- hour shifts to drain the quake lake. The workers in Tangjiashan removed 70,000 tons of rubble from a natural dam created when a mountain collapsed during the quake, Xinhua said. Aftershocks rattled the area, bringing more debris down, as China’s weather agency warned of more rain to come after downpours eased.
The death toll from the quake rose to 68,858 people with 18,618 missing, the State Council Information Office said today. More than 15 million people were displaced. In Mianyang, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the lake, streets were empty as shopkeepers and residents were ordered to leave areas at risk of being inundated.
Sichuan provincial officials have checked all the other quake lakes. Two were found to have burst, 10 are overflowing and the others are still dammed, the Ministry of Water Resources said.
Five of the lakes are in “immediate danger” of bursting with 13 in “medium danger.”
Heavy rain that prevented helicopters flying earthmoving equipment through the mountainous region eased at about midday yesterday, Xinhua said. More is on the way, the China Meteorological Administration said in its latest forecast.
Heavy rains and flash floods are increasing the risk of the lakes bursting, Water Minister Chen Lei said in the statement. The ministry wants at least 15 of the lakes to be drained by June 10, Chen said.
A 4.8-magnitude quake struck at 3:10 p.m. yesterday, one of five of magnitude 4.5 or higher in a 48-hour period, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site. More than 8,900 aftershocks have been registered by China’s seismology bureau since May 12, Xinhua said yesterday.
The Finance Ministry allocated a further 1 billion yuan ($144 million) to work on the lakes and reinforcing dams damaged in the quake, it said in a statement yesterday. It earlier earmarked 400 million yuan for the work.
The government had sent 133,000 soldiers and police officers into the disaster zone by May 28, Xinhua said yesterday. A further 45,000 militia and reservists have also been “mobilized” to help in the recovery.
China has received aid supplies, relief workers and medical teams from more than 40 countries, Zhi Shuping, the deputy director of China’s Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said yesterday.
Commitments worth 37.3 billion yuan have been received from domestic and overseas donors. Of that, 10.4 billion yuan has been delivered to Sichuan.
Japan will send civilian transport planes to China carrying tents and blankets, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said today at a regular news conference. He denied Japanese newspaper reports that military planes will be used.
The earthquake was the most powerful to hit China since a magnitude 8.6 quake struck Tibet in 1950, killing 1,526 people.
A 7.5 magnitude temblor in Tangshan in the northeast killed 250,000 people in 1976, according to the USGS. China’s seismology department said the Sichuan quake had a magnitude of 8.
Last Updated: May 30, 2008 05:22 EDT
By Wing-Gar Cheng and Li Yanping