Chinese soldiers prepared Monday to explode earthquake debris blocking a river where quickly rising waters threatened to flood disaster victims.
Two weeks after the magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit central Sichuan province, lakes formed by obstructed rivers clogged by landslides were adding new complications to recovery efforts already strained to find shelter for millions of homeless.
One of the most powerful aftershocks since the May 12 quake killed at least eight people Sunday, the Cabinet said, adding to the death toll that the government has said would surpass 80,000.
A Chinese government spokesman said Monday the official death toll had risen to 65,080.
To fight the flood risk, 1,800 soldiers arrived early Monday by foot to the new Tangjiashan lake in Beichuan county, each carrying 22 pounds of explosives to blast through the debris, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The lake is 2 miles upstream from the center of Beichuan county. Thousands of people who remained there after the initial earthquake have been evacuated in recent days as a precaution.
Thunderstorms could move in
With weather clearing that had earlier prevented helicopter flights, an earth mover was also lifted in the area to help clear debris, in footage shown on state TV.
But thunderstorms were forecast for parts of Sichuan later Monday and Tuesday, the China Meteorological Administration said, adding they “could increase the risks posed by river blockages in some quake-hit areas.”
The backed-up lake is one of several dozen in Sichuan. In Anxian country, about 30 miles to the south of Beichuan, a similar landslide blocked the Chaping river, submerging Shuangdian village.
Residents say the lake has been growing by about 2½ yards a day.
‘My village, it’s all become a sea’
Liu Zhongfu, 31, standing on a mountain overlooking the new lake was working away from home when the earthquake hit. His wife, 3-month-old daughter and 60-year-old mother were all unhurt.
“The water was covering the road, and two days later I could not see the roof of my house anymore,” said a truck driver who built his two-story wooden house himself. “I thought I could go back but I have nothing now. My village, it’s all become a sea.”
Water there was backed up 2 miles along the river, said Wang Li, county Communist Party secretary.
“We need to take care of this soon, this is a serious situation,” he said.
Elsewhere, 600 people were voluntarily evacuated from Guanzhuang in Qingchuan county because of landslide worries.
“There’s no danger for this exact moment from flooding but we are very worried because the whole mountain is loose,” said Ma Jian, a local official.
One-child policy relaxed
The confirmed death toll from the disaster rose Monday to 65,080, Cabinet spokesman Guo Weimin said, with 23,150 people still missing and 360,058 others injured.
Many of the dead were children — although no specifics have been given on how many — prompting officials to relax the country’s strict one-child policy.
The Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in the capital of Sichuan province announced Monday that families whose child was killed, severely injured or disabled in the quake can get a certificate to have another child.
The committee plans to help about 1,200 of the affected families, but said the number could change.
China’s top Communist Party leaders said relief efforts should now focus more on resettlement and post-quake reconstruction, but that work to find survivors should not stop.
The shift was announced at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee presided over by President Hu Jintao, Xinhua reported.