TAOHUA MOUNTAIN, China - For some evacuees, it was their fifth move since the earthquake. After relocating yet again, the weary survivors had little to do yesterday but wait for an earthquake-formed lake to drain so they could begin rebuilding their lives.
The threat of flooding from Tangjiashan lake has forced authorities to remove more than 250,000 people. Workers dug a diversion channel in an attempt to drain the lake, but the water level had not lowered significantly by early today, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
"I can't even cry, even if I want to. First it was the earthquake, now it's floods," said Yu Taichun, a doctor who was keeping watch over a small medical center in a tent city of about 2,500 people on the forested slopes of the Taohua, or "Peach Blossom," Mountain.
Yu said he has moved five times since the quake, arriving about two weeks ago at the latest camp overlooking the town of Qinglian, about 20 miles downstream from Tangjiashan lake.
Nerves were frayed among the refugees, who had little to do except wait for updates on the lake - the largest of more than 30 that have formed behind landslides caused by the magnitude-7.9 temblor on May 12. Arguments over petty matters were common.
Heatstroke was becoming a problem in the camp, where temperatures in the tents would often top 100 degrees, Yu said. Trucks delivered water several times a day, but there were no shower facilities, and toilets were backed up.
Yesterday, the area was deluged with rain. Residents cooked their dinners over open fires while holding umbrellas. Others, loaded down with black disks of coal for fuel, struggled to walk on the muddy ground. Many scrambled to close off their makeshift homes.
The evacuees were resigned. "What can you do?" was a common lament. In the city of Mianyang, some questioned whether the government had overreacted to the lake's threat after residents were evacuated from more permanent camps more than a week ago without any clear idea of when the lake would drain - or burst.
"All I do every day is eat noodles, listen to the radio, and sleep," said retiree Zhen Yiyuan, who was camped in a hillside park.
Zhen, 61, said his sister who lives in the destroyed mountain village of Yuli had it far worse, surviving only on salvaged corn and other crops after the few pounds of rice airdropped after the quake ran out. Technicians were keeping a wary eye out for increased rainfall and further landslides that could set off a flood surge in the lake, located north of where the quake was centered.
Along with communities downstream, the Tangjiashan lake also threatens a state-owned oil pipeline some 35 miles away, the company said. General Manager Jiang Jiemin flew to the scene to oversee measures to protect the pipeline, billed as the longest and widest in China.
The quake, centered in Sichuan Province, killed 69,127 people, and 17,918 are still missing, according to government figures.