Monday, May 19, 2008

Flood - China (Chengdu) MAY

CHENGDU, China — Thousands of earthquake survivors fled tent camps and villages across the ravaged landscape of southwestern China on Saturday after the government warned that several lakes and rivers were getting dangerously close to overflowing because landslides have blocked water flow.

Residents and rescue workers fled the county of Beichuan on Saturday amid warnings of possible flooding from a river

The new threats came as government officials said that more than three million homes had been destroyed by Monday’s earthquake, and more than 12 million had been damaged. The government again raised the death toll, to nearly 29,000.

The resulting humanitarian crisis is the largest in China in decades, and in the process of covering the developments, Chinese news organizations have been testing strict government censorship in new ways — and even winning some concessions.

With the scale of the disaster becoming ever more apparent, the United Nations announced that it would provide a grant of $7 million from an emergency response fund “to help meet the most urgent humanitarian requirements.”

The danger of flooding on Saturday was so severe that some rescue workers had to abandon their efforts, at least temporarily, to find people buried beneath rubble in Beichuan, one of the hardest-hit counties. Such interruptions could doom the relatively few who could be expected to be alive under debris.

The greatest threat of flooding came from a lake in the far north of Sichuan Province that had already begun to overflow because of a blockage in the Qingzhu River, according to Xinhua, the official news agency, which cited experts at the province’s land management department. Heavy rains began pounding large parts of Sichuan on Saturday night, adding to the threat.

A rise of only 6 to 10 feet will cause the lake to “threaten more than 2,000 people who are staying in shelters after the earthquake downstream,” one expert said, adding that it was inevitable that debris would continue to flow down, adding to the blockage.

Early on Sunday, a tremor with a magnitude of 6.0 struck northern Sichuan, one of the largest quakes since last Monday. Other tremors over the past several days have caused new landslides.

Relief officials in the county where the flood threat is highest, Qingchuan, have begun evacuating people and are considering blasting the embankment to divert water from the overflowing lake. “We were informed that the Qingchuan government is requesting urgent evacuation because the water level of the dammed lake has reached 70 meters,” or 230 feet, said a worker at the control center of the Guangyuan Petrol Company who gave his name as Mr. Wang. He said workers were being evacuated.

Farther south, closer to the epicenter, people around Beichuan, a town that was flattened by the 7.9-magnitude earthquake, also began fleeing because of flood warnings related to a choked river. Thousands of people are buried under rubble in the town, the county seat of Beichuan, and it is the scene of one of the most intense rescue efforts in the disaster zone. But on Saturday soldiers, rescue workers and medics had to stop their work and seek higher ground or leave the area. People who were fleeing described soldiers from the army heeding the flood warning, packing up and driving down from the mountains.

There were unconfirmed reports that the immediate danger had passed by evening and that rescue operations may have resumed.

Landslides continue to pose one of the greatest threats across the mountainous terrain of Sichuan. Daily aftershocks and tremors — at least 168 significant ones since Monday — set off new slides. At least 13 rivers and lakes have been dammed up by the quake, the state-run China National Radio reported Saturday, citing an official at the Land and Resource Ministry.

People in the disaster zone have had to grapple with the rising threat of flooding. On Wednesday, the top economic planning body in China issued a report saying that the quake had damaged 391 reservoirs. The same day, 2,000 soldiers were sent to inspect cracks in the Zipingpu Dam, upriver from the hard-hit town of Dujiangyan, and drain water from the reservoir.

Experts outside China say many of the threatened dams and reservoirs were built along the well-recognized Longmenshan fault, and that the dams might have sustained damage that could make them fail weeks later.

Officials said Saturday that the death toll had risen to 28,881. Earlier in the week, they said it could reach 50,000. Officials said Saturday that 12.5 million homes had been damaged, and 3.1 million had collapsed.

President Hu Jintao has urged rescuers to continue searching for survivors. Some were pulled out on Saturday, but medical experts say the chances of people living in rubble decrease significantly after the first 72 hours.

The Ministry of Health said Saturday that it had found no epidemics in the disaster areas, Xinhua reported. Hospitals in Sichuan had received more than 116,000 patients, 14 percent of whom were severely injured, the ministry added. More than 34,000 medical workers and disease control staff members are in Sichuan, and they are being given pamphlets that tell them how to disinfect food and drinking water and how to handle bodies. - Source

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