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China moves 70,000 from quake areas, fearing flood

China has evacuated more than 70,000 people near the epicentre of last month's devastating earthquake to avoid further casualties from landslides and other disasters during the country's deadly annual flood season.
By John Ruwitch | Reuters, Sanshui, China
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2008 09:51 AM IST

China has evacuated more than 70,000 people near the epicentre of last month's devastating earthquake to avoid further casualties from landslides and other disasters during the country's deadly annual flood season.

Rain and floods, concentrated in China's heavily industrialised south, have killed at least 176 people and left 52 missing, as authorities struggle to shelter millions made homeless by the 7.9 magnitude quake that struck southwest Sichuan province on May 12.

Authorities in Aba prefecture had moved 72,000 people living in "highly dangerous terrain" in Wenchuan county, the epicentre of the quake, to safer areas ahead of downpours on Wednesday night, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.

"The three-day mass relocation concluded at 8 pm, just two hours before heavy rain hit the county," Xinhua quoted local disaster prevention authorities as saying.

It did not explain how the already devastated area was still home to so many people, whether they were living in tent cities or in homes, or where they would be evacuated to.

Authorities on Sunday had started to evacuate another nearly 40,000 residents from other regions of the prefecture on Sunday, the report said, without elaborating.

Since the earthquake struck, killing more than 69,000 people, Wenchuan county alone had experienced nearly 5,000 "secondary geological disasters", including hundreds of major landslides and mudslides, Xinhua said, citing the county's land and resources bureau.

"The risks of inundation and geological disasters such as landslides will rise in the looming main flood season," Xinhua quoted Aba deputy Communist Party secretary Wu Zegang as saying.

The death-toll in China's flood season, which has forced the evacuation of about 1.66 million people and damaged or destroyed 9,000 square miles of crop-land, had risen to at least 176 people by Thursday, 50 days before the Olympic Games open in Beijing.

Rainstorms and floods had been recorded in nine provinces, from southwest Yunnan as far as eastern Zhejiang, where 2,000 people were evacuated in Pingyao city as waters threatened to engulf residents' roof-tops.

The floods have seen hundreds of police and rescue workers rushed to shore up dams and reservoirs threatening to burst under the pressure of torrential rain in southern Guangxi region and exporting hub Guangdong province.

A total of 116 reservoirs reported water levels "higher than danger lines" in Guangdong, where flooding has claimed the lives of 23 people and resulted in economic losses of 5.28 billion yuan ($767.2 million), Xinhua said, citing the province's flood control headquarters.

China suffers floods, droughts and other disasters across its huge landmass every year. The State Flood Control and Relief Headquarters said the death toll was significantly lower than similar periods in previous years.

Some economists have said the cost of this year's flooding appears no greater than in previous years, but add that thousands of hectares of lost crops could add to price pressures as China battles inflation that has been driven by soaring food costs over the past year.

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