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Page last updated at 18:09 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 19:09 UK

China wins quake lake 'victory'

See the abandoned town of Beichuan become submerged as Lake Tangjiashan is drained

China has won a "decisive victory" in reducing water levels in an unstable lake formed by last month's earthquake in Sichuan province, officials say.

Soldiers used explosives to divert water from Lake Tangjiashan into the quake-damaged town of Beichuan.

Residents had already been evacuated to higher ground, but many watched as water gushed through their town.

Experts had feared the lake could have suddenly burst its dam, threatening about 1.3m people living downstream.

Eyewitnesses said they saw the bodies of quake victims along with trees, household furniture and other debris in the waters pouring from the lake.

The BBC's James Reynolds, watching the scene downriver from Beichuan, in Mianyang, says people in the area came down to watch and take photos as the rising waters surged past.

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The scene in Mianyang City as river refills with quake lake water

The Communist Party chief for Sichuan province, Liu Qibao, said a "decisive victory" had been achieved after the water level in Lake Tangjiashan dropped by more than 20 metres, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Beichuan was devastated by the 12 May earthquake, prompting authorities to evacuate residents and seal it off. The town is to be rebuilt elsewhere, Xinhua said.

'Heartbreaking'

Tangjiashan lake was formed when a landslide blocked a river during the earthquake.

Flooded area of Beichuan

More than 250,000 residents were evacuated from downstream areas as pressure built and the lake became increasingly unstable.

Two "massive blasts" on Monday evening widened a bottleneck in the drainage channel, Xinhua reported.

By Tuesday morning, water was draining from the lake far faster than it was entering it, the agency quoted the emergency headquarters at the lake as saying.

But the threat of landslides remains, and soldiers and experts are being evacuated from unstable areas, Xinhua said.

In Beichuan, brown water rushed into low-lying parts of the town.

Some residents said they still had possessions inside the ruins of their houses.

"It began flooding early this morning," shop assistant Zhu Yunhui told Reuters. "Now we can never go back. This is heartbreaking."

More than 30 "quake lakes" were created by the earthquake, which left almost 87,000 people dead or missing.

Some five million people are thought to be homeless across the region.



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