- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

HONGYE VILLAGE, China | Soldiers used dynamite and anti-tank weapons to blow up boulders in a diversion channel to try to speed the drainage of a quake-formed lake, but it continued to swell Monday.

Authorities remained on alert when yet another aftershock jarred the Tangjiashan lake, which could flood more than 1.3 million people downstream if the water flow is not controlled.

Military engineers fired ammunition at massive rocks in a spillway dug to relieve pressure on the unstable barrier blocking the river, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Soldiers also have used 3 tons of dynamite in recent days to break up boulders and double the width of the channel to 33 feet, the report said.

The flow in the channel increased after more than 10 explosions, but it was not keeping up with the water gushing into the lake from the blocked river behind the dam.

On Monday, about 120 People’s Liberation Army soldiers were sent to reinforce the operation to drain the lake, which formed when a landslide set off by the powerful May 12 earthquake blocked the flow of the Tongkou River. Crews were deepening the diversion channel and digging a second spillway, Xinhua reported.

The water level was more than 6 feet above the mouth of the spillway and rising, Xinhua said. Authorities were on alert for threats to the dam’s stability, including increased rainfall, new aftershocks and landslides that could deposit rubble in the lake and push water levels even higher.

More than 250,000 people downstream from Tangjiashan lake have been evacuated in recent weeks. Many were living in improvised camps on surrounding hillsides, surviving on instant noodles and suffering from heat, mosquitoes and a lack of water for bathing.

Managing the lake is the latest challenge for the Chinese government, which already is shouldering the burden of caring for the 5 million left homeless by the disaster. The death toll for the May 12 quake climbed Monday to 69,142, with 17,551 people still missing.

Efforts to control the lake have been hampered by aftershocks. A magnitude-5 quake rattled parts of the disaster zone Monday afternoon, including the Tangjiashan lake. Rocks rolled down mountainsides and the dam shook, Xinhua reported, but the dam held.

Meanwhile, 15 government officials in Sichuan province, where the May 12 quake was centered, have been removed from their posts for slow responses or wrongdoing during relief work, Xinhua said.

Another 13 were punished for wrongdoing during quake relief, the report said, without elaborating.

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