Lake Forces Evacuation in China Rain grounded helicopters ferrying equipment and fuel to Chinese workers Thursday as they tried to drain a lake formed by the May 12 earthquake in southwestern Sichuan province.
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Lake Forces Evacuation in China

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Lake Forces Evacuation in China

Lake Forces Evacuation in China

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, just how did that Scott McClellan book get to journalists before the publishing date?

CHADWICK: First to China where things cannot get any worse, but then they do. Beichuan, a town at the center of the earthquake is now threatened by fire and flood. Some 158,000 people have been evacuated because of the threat from a lake that was created by the quake. The lake has been rising a couple of yards a day, and there are reports today that bleach used to disinfect many of the quake ruins has caught fire, and it's sending billowing smoke over the town. Joining us is NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He's in Beijing now but just back from Sichuan province. Anthony, what is the scene like there, what are you hearing?

ANTHONY KUHN: Well, what we hear is that in the town of Lagu, which is Chinese for Thunder Drum village, disinfectant - which is being used everywhere around the province and particularly in Beichuan, where a lot of bodies were just never recovered, so they are spraying it the rubble, they're spraying it on cars, they're spraying it on people who didn't go in and out of the area. This disinfectant got into a chemical fire and apparently poisoned quite a few People's Liberation Army's soldiers who were in the area. So they're evacuating these soldiers now to a hospital. We've seen pictures of the sickened soldiers staggering out being supported by their comrades. It's a very hard to get to area, a township where I was just a few days ago.

CHADWICK: I'm looking at a page in today's New York Times, and it's got photographs of this area and this growing lake, and I must say it's just completely alarming. This is the lake that's created by landslides that came about during the earthquake. They blocked rivers, the rivers are backing up and making this massive lake and it's filling up very quickly.

KUHN: That's right. They're reaching the top of the barriers formed by these landslides. We're talking about 34 lakes just formed in the last couple of weeks since the earthquake and of those 34 more than two dozen are in danger of bursting so that's a tremendous amount of devastation just waiting to happen. And although they're mountainous areas they're very densely inhabited and that's why they've had to evacuate more than 150,000 people. But that's nothing compared to what they may have to evacuate.

Now the main quake lake, as they call it, is near Beichuan County, and how many people they eventually have to evacuate depends on how much water comes out there how fast. And if it comes out very fast, they have to evacuate a total of about 1.3 million people, and right now the army is in there with explosives and with backhoes and they're trying to dig channels to let the water out slowly. But they're racing against time, of course, because the rainy season is coming, and it's a very difficult area for them to get to when there's bad weather and they can't helicopter the stuff in. They've got to walk it in. So they're really racing against time.

CHADWICK: And these barriers that are keeping the lake water in, these aren't dams, I mean these are not reinforced structures, they're just landslides, and the water is getting close to the top of this area. How much time do they have? It's more than a million people to evacuate. You got to figure the news from China may turn much worse.

KUHN: It could happen in Beichuan. It could happen in a number of other places, and of course, these landslides, these were just pieces of mountain that were shaken loose by the earthquake - huge boulders that came and smashed the town of Beichuan. So you know, I think it's incredible that they haven't had more casualties, that they've been able to get people out in time, that they haven't had more devastating disasters - also considering the fact that they've had more than 8,000 aftershocks since the earthquake. Not as devastating as the original ones, but so far it is amazing that they have escaped more serious damage.

CHADWICK: NPR's Anthony Kuhn with us from Beijing today. Anthony, thank you.

KUHN: Thank you Alex.

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