Earthquake troops hit by Chemical explosion in China

A stockpile of chemicals being used to disinfect an earthquake-shattered Chinese town caught fire injuring scores of soldiers today.

Rain added to the misery of crowds of homeless survivors living in tents, and hampered troops rushing to drain a lake formed by the quake before it floods a valley filled with villages.

The chemical fire took place in already devastated Beichuan. Troops had already sealed the town to the public and officials said it would be rebuilt elsewhere because it was so badly damaged.

As in many destroyed towns, officials have been spraying disinfecting bleach on streets and rubble in an effort to prevent disease spreading. Thousands of people are still missing and their bodies could be buried in the rubble, while rats and other scavengers have been reported in some places.

State-run television showed smoke billowing over Beichuan and reported that a stockpile of bleach had ignited in a storage building and said 61 soldiers were injured.

Meanwhile the heavy rain grounded helicopters which have been airlifting heavy equipment to dig drainage channels from the lake above the city.

In the past three days of around-the-clock work, troops have dug a 50-yard wide channel 300 yards long.

The government today raised the confirmed death toll from the quake to 68,516, with 19,350 people still missing. The government has already said it expects the final toll to surpass 80,000.

Rain was forecast to continue in the area before subsiding later today.

Some 158,000 people downstream from the new lake have been evacuated, and officials have said they will warn other nearby residents in case of flooding so they have time to flee.

Of 34 lakes created by the earthquake, 28 are at risk of bursting, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

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