MIANYANG, China — China labored on Tuesday to evacuate about 80,000 people downstream from an unstable earthquake-created dam that is threatening to collapse, and troops rushed to carve a trench to drain the water before it floods the valley.
The threat of flooding comes even as quake aftershocks continue to hit the region. Two on Tuesday caused more than 420,000 houses to collapse in Qingchuan county. Sixty-three people were injured, including six who were critically hurt, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
In the evacuation, dozens of villages were emptied, the China Daily reported today. It quoted Premier Wen Jiabao as telling a meeting of China's Cabinet that handling the danger from the swelling lakes was the "most pressing task" right now.
The newspaper said a total of 158,000 people had been evacuated in case the newly formed Tangjiashan lake bursts before soldiers and engineers can drain water from it. About 78,000 people were evacuated before Tuesday, Xinhua reported.
Dozens of lakes have been swelling behind walls of mud and rubble that have plugged narrow valleys in parts of the disaster zone, adding a new worry for millions of survivors.
More than 30 villages were emptied and the people were being sent to camps like the one outside Jiangyou, where an Associated Press reporter saw 12 to 15 people crammed into each of 40 government-issued tents pitched on a hillside overlooking the river.
Xinhua said emergency workers labored into the night to try to get 80,000 people out.
Troops on Tuesday used explosives to blow up tree stumps that were hampering heavy-duty excavators that were airlifted by helicopter in recent days to Tangjiashan lake near the town of Beichuan, Xinhua said.
The magnitude-7.9 quake that struck Sichuan province May 12 sent a mass of dirt and rocks tumbling in the valley about two miles above the town in a spot not reached by roads, plugging a river that is now forming the lake.
Elsewhere in the region, workers also used explosives to level some buildings that were left teetering by the quake.
The number of deaths from the quake climbed toward an expected toll of 80,000 or more. China's Cabinet said Tuesday that 67,183 people were confirmed killed, with 20,790 still missing.