Page last updated at 08:23 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 09:23 UK

Mass evacuation from quake lake

Annotated image of Tangjiashan lake and Beichuan
Thousands are under threat if the water spills over from the 'quake lake'

Almost 160,000 people have now been evacuated from areas below a rising "quake lake" in Sichuan province, Chinese state media say.

Experts fear Tangjiashan lake, formed in the 12 May earthquake when a landslide blocked a river, could burst its barrier and deluge the area.

Chinese leaders say tackling the newly formed lake and dozens like it is now the "most pressing" task.

The death toll from the devastating earthquake now stands at 67,183.

Another 20,790 people are listed as missing and more than five million people are homeless.

Earth-moving equipment at Tangjiashan quake lake on 26 May 2008

Aftershocks are continuing to rock the region, and on Tuesday 63 people were injured, including six critically, in Qingchuan county, Xinhua news agency said.

The aftershocks, coupled with heavy rain, are hampering relief efforts.

According to Chinese media, a total of 158,000 people have now been evacuated from potentially vulnerable areas downstream from Tangjiashan lake.

The lake's water level is rising by more than one metre per day.

Liu Ning, chief engineer of the Ministry of Water Resources, says it now holds as much water as 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

If the water bursts through the natural barrier of rock and earth, more than one million people may have to be relocated, China Daily said.

Hundreds of troops and engineers have been using earth-moving equipment to dig a channel in a bid to drain the water.

On Tuesday, Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu visited the lake to observe work there.

"It is threatening millions of lives in the area downstream and any negligence will cause new disasters to people who have already suffered the quake," he said.

More than 30 similar lakes were formed by the earthquake two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, the government allocated 200m yuan ($29m, 14.5m) to making the "quake lakes" safe, Xinhua said.

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