More than 1 million people may have to evacuate dozens of villages in a Sichuan province valley if an earthquake-spawned lake begins flooding the region, an emergency official warned Friday.
Authorities were preparing to run a drill starting Saturday to ensure 1.3 million people in the Mianyang region can get out quickly if water should break through the wall of debris that dammed a river, creating Tangjiashan lake.
Hundreds of Chinese troops were working around the clock to drain the lake, which formed above Beichuan town when a hillside plunged into a river valley during the May 12 quake that killed more than 68,000 people.
An official with the press office of Mianyang City Quake Control and Relief Headquarters, who would give only her surname of Chen, said a report Friday by the official Xinhua News Agency that a mass evacuation already had been ordered was wrong.
“People will only be evacuated in case of actual collapsing of the whole bank,” Chen told The Associated Press.
Chen said 197,500 people in the valley were being moved to higher ground — about 30,000 more than previously announced — while the rest would be moved only if the dam breaks.
Chen said the drill would consist of testing the command system of various levels of government officials to ensure that any order to evacuate — if it comes — would be passed on quickly to everyone in the valley.
No sign of immediate collapse
No public broadcast of the evacuation order would take place.
There was no sign that the dam was about to burst on Friday, though officials say it could do so in coming days. Troops have sealed off Beichuan to the public.
Tangjiashan is the largest of more than 30 lakes that have formed behind landslides caused by the quake, which also weakened man-made dams in the mountainous parts of the disaster zone.
Outside the town of Hanwang, about 35 miles southwest of Tangjiashan lake, a brigade of 50 workers on Friday was busy mixing concrete to reinforce dikes around a dam on the Mianyuan River. Hanwang faces inundation if the structures fail.
Millions of people in Sichuan province are already living in tent camps and prefabricated housing, which were taking on the tone of new villages.
In Mianzhu, about 40 miles south of Beichuan, hospitals, schools and even a makeshift shopping mall had emerged in a tent camp, with stores selling shampoo, shoes, beer and clothes.
A mobile medical center on the back of a tractor-trailer rig was providing free eye exams. About 50 people — mostly senior citizens and children — lined up for the checkups.
“I’ve never had my eyes checked before. Even before the quake. This is the first time,” said Yu Xiaoling, a 54-year-old farmer who lost her home in the quake.
But some residents were longing for the comforts of home.
“Life is really good here, but we don’t have a TV. The things I miss most, though, are my stuffed animals. I lost them when our home collapsed,” said Fang Ming, a 10-year-old girl standing outside her tent peeling an orange with the sharp edge of a chopstick.
The confirmed death toll from China’s worst quake in three decades was 68,858, the government announced, an increase of about 350 from a day earlier. Another 18,618 people were still missing, the government said.
Survivors still looking for relatives
In the chaos after the magnitude 7.9 earthquake, which made 5 million homeless, many survivors were separated from their families.
Social workers have helped bring together more than 7,000 children and their families since the earthquake struck Sichuan province May 12, said Ye Lu, director of social welfare at the provincial Civil Affairs Department.
“A little more than 1,000 children remain unclaimed or orphaned,” Ye said.
The government has been overwhelmed with calls seeking to adopt those children, Ye said.
“We are still getting thousands of calls per week asking about how to adopt, but we are still hoping to find the parents of these 1,000 kids,” he said.
Government officials in Tokyo said Japan would not use military planes to deliver relief goods to China after Beijing voiced uneasiness over the idea.
China had been in talks with Tokyo about using Japanese military planes to deliver aid. Japan invaded China and conquered large parts of it in the 1930s before being defeated by the Allies in 1945, and many Chinese still strongly resent Japan for its military aggression.