1m set to flee if 'quake lake' bursts
Ng Tze-wei in Mianyang
More than a million people in quake-ravaged central Sichuan have been warned to prepare to leave their homes at short notice as work to drain water from the Tangjiashan 'quake lake' nears completion.
A runoff channel 300 metres long, 50 metres wide and 10 metres deep is almost complete after five days of round-the-clock digging. The authorities hope to drain water from the lake - which could flood the whole of Mianyang county if the dam formed by landslides during last month's earthquake is breached.
The People's Armed Police began withdrawing from the site by helicopter yesterday. Xinhua said 340 of the 400 people working near the lake had been evacuated by 8pm and the rest would be pulled out today, with only three engineering teams left behind to complete the final work.
The authorities expect to start draining the lake today. Experts believe the 200 million cubic metres of water in the 'quake lake' could otherwise breach the dam as soon as Tuesday.
The swift completion of the channel, together with the increased risk of a burst after days of rain, means the original plan of blowing up the dam is no longer possible - or necessary.
The authorities have been preparing for the worst, and last week ordered the evacuation of 195,000 residents of low-lying areas of Mianyang city and villages administered by the city. If using the channel to drain the lake is a failure or if the water level rises faster than expected, towns in Mianyang would be flooded and another 1.1 million forced to move to higher ground. They have been told to start packing.
In a commercial street in Mianyang's Shenjiaba area, all the shops were closed, their security gates rolled down and sandbags stacked at entrances in the hope of limiting flood damage. Police were patrolling the area in pairs, making sure everyone had moved to nearby Fule Mountain and that no shops were looted.
Emergency exercises were organised in parts of Mianyang to teach people how to quickly evacuate to safety at the sound of air-raid sirens.
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