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China plans mass exodus from quake zone

  • Story Highlights
  • Authorities say another 40,000 must leave the area below quake lake
  • Fears water could burst through earthquake-created dam causing mass flooding
  • Japanese military expected to send emergency relief aircraft to China
  • Official death toll now stands at 68,858, with another 18,618 people missing
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MIANYANG, China (CNN) -- Authorities are expanding plans to evacuate people in southwestern China as water piles up behind a dam created by an earthquake landslide, state-run media reported Friday.

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An aerial view of one of the so-called quake lakes in Beichuan County of Sichuan Province.

An additional 40,000 people in Beichuan county have been ordered to leave at-risk areas downstream from the so-called quake lake, bringing the total to nearly 200,000.

A report that China had ordered the evacuation of 1.3 million people, however, turned out not to be true. That report appeared Friday in China's state-run news agency, Xinhua.

The Chinese authorities say they actually are planning a drill to make sure they are prepared in case they have to evacuate 1.3 million people. That's an estimate of the number of people who could be evacuated if the dam breaks completely.

The earthquake in Sichuan province triggered a landslide that blocked Jianjiang River and created Tangjiashan Lake. But authorities are concerned the dirt wall created by the quake will not hold back the water.

Thousands of Chinese security forces are assisting with evacuations downstream from the lake. They also are spearheading efforts to create a spillway at the lake to relieve pressure behind the dam.
Video Watch footage of the landslides »

The government told frustrated evacuees they were creating a safer place for them to stay. However, the residents told CNN the government-created site is not as desirable as the site they are being ordered to leave. They say they would like to return if possible once floodwaters recede.

As of Thursday afternoon, the water level of the quake lake was within 75 feet (23 meters) of overflowing the massive pile of rock and soil and was rising at about 6 feet (2 meters) a day.

Chinese military engineers said the spillway is about a third completed, China's Xinhua news agency reported. Tons of earth-moving equipment and explosives have been flown to the site, but creating the spillway is expected to be a days-long process.
Video Watch a report on evacuation plans due to flooding risk »

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The lake is holding an estimated 170 million cubic yards (130 million cubic meters) of water -- equal to about 50,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to Liu Ning, chief engineer of the Ministry of Water Resources.

The official death toll from the quake stands at 68,858 as of Friday, with another 18,618 people missing.

China has begun talks with its former enemy Japan as it seeks help to boost its relief operations.

The discussions center around deploying Japanese military to the affected area -- what would be the first significant military dispatch involving the two countries since World War II, The Associated Press reported Thursday.
Video Watch report from tent city in Mianyang »

"Given the magnitude of this disaster, if some countries or militaries are ready to provide us with material in urgent need, we will express our welcome," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, AP reported.

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The Kyodo news agency said Japan plans to dispatch Self-Defense Forces aircraft to transport tents and other relief supplies to main airports, but the troops will not be allowed to go into the affected areas.
Video Watch how rain has caused further problems. »

China's relations with Japan have been cold since the invasion by its neighbor in the 1930s, which caused a residual resentment among the Chinese population, especially as chemical weapons were abandoned there by Japanese troops, AP said.

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