A British landslide expert today urged China to immediately evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from the path of a giant dam he fears is ready to burst.
Dr David Petley, who has been monitoring the lake formed by earthquake debris in the Sichuan region via photographs, said it appeared that troops attempting to lower the level had lost control of the situation.
More than 250,000 people downstream have already been moved to high ground, but a total of about 1.3 million people live in the danger zone.
Professor Petley, from the University of Durham, warned: “The government absolutely must evacuate everyone at risk downstream as there is a really high chance of a total collapse.
“I want to emphasise that it seems to me that this is a crisis situation.”
For days, Chinese troops have been using dynamite and anti-tank weapons to blast boulders and other obstacles in a man-made diversion canal, trying to speed the flow of water and relieve pressure on the lake’s unstable mud and rock banks.
But it is uncertain if engineers can control the flow and prevent a breach that would cause severe flooding downstream.
The official Xinhua news agency said its reporters in saw trees, barrels, television sets, refrigerators “and the occasional dead bodies of quake victims” in waters pouring out of the mountains.
Searchers also discovered the wreckage of an air force helicopter that crashed in deep mountains in south-western China while ferrying people injured in last month’s quake.
The remains of the five-person crew and 14 quake victims were found at the crash site near the town of Yingxiu
Elsewhere today, staff at Wolong, a world-famous panda reserve, buried a nine-year-old female who was killed in a landslide triggered by the quake. Another Wolong panda, Xiao Xiao, has been missing since the quake. Forty-seven other pandas still live at Wolong, while others have been moved to Sichuan’s provincial capital of Chengdu and Beijing.
The 7.9 magnitude quake on May 12 killed 69,146 people, and 17,516 are still missing, according to the government. About five million people were made homeless.
Earlier, China’s security tsar stressed the need to maintain order amid a struggle to shelter millions left homeless by the quake and scattered protests over alleged corruption linked to shoddy school construction.
Zhou Yongkang demanded police and legal staff “solve disputes and help maintain social stability,” the Communist Party’s official newspaper, The People’s Daily, said in a front-page report.
Zhou, a member of the party’s powerful nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, visited hard-hit regions for five days, according to the reports.
Although there have been no reports of major unrest, refugees have rioted on at least one occasion over misused aid. Parents of children killed in schools have demanded officials answer for alleged corruption in the buildings’ construction.
At least 15 Sichuan officials have also been removed from their posts for mishandling relief work. Another 13 have been given other forms of administrative punishment.