Soldiers raced on Monday to blast clear a river dammed by landslides after China's deadly earthquake two weeks ago, amid fears that more than one million people could be at risk from flooding.
The operation to reduce the so-called “quake lake” in mountainous Sichuan province came as the confirmed death toll from the huge tremor passed 65,000, with more than 23,000 others still missing.
One of the top concerns on Monday was the build-up of a massive amount of water on the Jian river in devastated Beichuan county, with authorities warning of major flooding if it bursts.
More than 100,000 people had already been evacuated downstream over the past week, and if the lake bursts uncontrollably, more than 1.2 million others would be at risk, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
State television showed a team of 1,800 Chinese soldiers and police arriving early Monday at the river after a long hike through remote, mountainous terrain.
The soldiers had orders to blast away some of the landslide rubble with dynamite.
Fifteen pieces of heavy equipment, including bulldozers and loading trucks, had been transported to the site by helicopter, Xinhua said on Monday evening. There were no further details on the progress of the work, although media reports suggested that the focus had moved away from blasting away the rubble to digging it out.
The swelling body of water is one of about 35 “quake lakes” that could cause huge problems if they burst, Vice Minister of Water Resources E Jingping said Sunday. He stressed there was no imminent danger from the “quake lakes” but warned that expected heavy rains over the next few days would heighten flood risks.
He also said the quake had left 69 dams in danger of bursting and created “dangerous situations”.