Tens of thousands of people were being evacuated last night as the Government prepared to blow up dykes west of Wuhan to divert the Yangtze. 'We are busy moving people. We are getting ready and there's no time to talk,' said an official in Gongan county, which was covered when the Yangtze was diverted in 1954. Reports said 50,000 were being helped to safety. In 1954, huge areas south of Shashi city, west of Wuhan, were flooded. Thousands died when officials breached the dykes to protect Wuhan during the worst floods in recent history. 'The flood peak will pass here around midday. We are not sure whether we need to divert the flood to Gongan county or not,' another official at the Jingzhou Flood Control Command said. People in Shashi said the Yangtze's water level was 18 metres above the town. 'It is very worrying. Last night they cordoned off the dyke areas,' said a receptionist at the Shashi Hotel. In Beijing, officials insisted no decision had been made. 'It is dangerous. We have asked people to get prepared but probably we will not have to divert the river,' said Zhao Chunming, deputy director of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. State Council spokesman Zhao Qizheng said there was no question of blowing up the dykes. 'This question is theoretical. It is natural to compare events with 1954 but after decades of work the embankments are [now] in better condition,' he said. Since the 1950s, dykes along the Jinjiang River have been strengthened and people who live outside them have been evacuated. Officials said more than 2,000 people had died, almost all from mudslides, not breaches of dykes. This year's rainfall, although at a record along parts of the Yangtze valley, is below that of 1954. Officials said water levels were in places a metre higher because the water flowing through the main river channel was greater. In the last 40 years, lakes such as Dongting and Poyang have been unable to hold the overflow, partly because of silting, but mainly because much of them has been drained and converted to fields. 'In the past we did not know the importance of keeping the lakes clear . . . Now we know such areas must not be used for agriculture,' Mr Zhao said. Television news reported that buildings, bridges and other structures blocking the flow of the river were being removed. Almost 14 million people have been moved from their homes.