More than a million people may have to urgently evacuate a Chinese valley threatened with flooding from a lake created by the earthquake.
Rescue workers are planning an exercise tomorrow to ensure 1.3 million people in dozens of villages in the Mianyang region can get out quickly if the lake breaks through a wall of debris that has clogged a river.
Hundreds of Chinese troops are working around the clock in the northern part of stricken Sichuan province to drain the Tangjiashan lake, which formed above Beichuan town when a hillside plunged into the river valley.
A spokeswoman at Mianyang City Quake Control and Relief Headquarters said earlier reports that 1.3 million had been ordered to evacuate from the valley were wrong.
“Not all 1.3 million people will be actually evacuated. People will only be evacuated in case of the actual collapse of the whole bank,” she said.
She said 197,500 people in the valley are being moved to higher ground, about 30,000 more than previously announced, while the rest would be removed only if the dam breaks.
Some 158,000 people living downstream from Tangjiashan lake have already been evacuated. 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.
The government announced today that the confirmed death toll from China’s worst disaster in three decades was 68,858, an increase of about 350 from a day earlier. Another 18,618 people were still missing. 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 reunite more than 7,000 children separated from their parents by the earthquake in Sichuan, but some 1,000 remain unclaimed.
About 8,000 children were reported to be separated from their families in the first few days after the 7.9 magnitude quake, and that figure has now been drastically reduced to 1,000, said Civil Affairs Department official Ye Lu.
“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,” Ye said.
Millions are living in tent camps or prefabricated housing being erected by troops, which were taking on the tone of new villages.
In Mianzhu, hospitals, schools and even a makeshift shopping mall had emerged in a tent camp, with stores selling shampoo, shoes, beer and clothes.
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.
Meanwhile government officials in Tokyo said Japan would not use military planes to deliver relief goods to China.
Beijing had been in talks with Tokyo about using Japanese military planes to deliver aid, which could have become the first significant military dispatch between the two nations since the Second World War.