Dams and Earthquakes

Quake survivors now face threat of flooding from damaged dams

September 4, 2008

An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 hit Sichaun province last Saturday, killing at least 38 people and displacing 1.09 million, reports the South China Morning Post.

According to the China Earthquake Administration, the epicenter was 30 miles southeast of Panzhihua City, hitting the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan the hardest.

Xinhua reported that areas most affected by the quake were Panzhihua and Huili of Liangshan, both in Sichuan, and Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Chuxiong, Bai Autonomous Prefecture of Dali and Zhaotong City, all in Yunnan Province.

In addition, Kunming, the Yunnan capital, was also affected.

Officials said more than 300 aftershocks had been monitored in the quake zone as of 5 a.m. local time Sunday. Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Chuxiong was the most affected.

Officials also warn that survivors of the quake could be in further danger as dams weakened by the quake threaten to burst, reports the South China Morning Post.

“The recent earthquake has worsened the situation and increased the danger to these reservoirs and dams, as cracks in them have developed, been widened and enlarged,” said Huang Jianfa, director general of the China Earthquake Administration’s relief work department.

“There is a hidden danger because many dams are believed to have severe water leaks.”

The Ertan dam, one of China’s biggest hydropower stations is in the quake-hit region, but officials said it had not been damaged.

However, Sichuan-based seismologist Fan Xiao said the earthquake would have a severe impact on hydropower facilities and urged authorities to thoroughly investigate the region’s dams.

Officials and experts dismissed suggestions that the Panzhihua earthquake was an aftershock of the May 12 Wenchuan tremor — China’s most powerful in 100 years which left 88,000 people dead or missing and 10 million displaced.

But Liu Jie, director of forecasting at the China Earthquake Networks Centre, explained that last weekend’s quake was related to the earlier one because the huge amount of energy the Wenchuan quake released would have created imbalances all along the earthquake belt that stretches across western China.

Mr. Liu said there would be more aftershocks in the near future. Meanwhile, seismologists and government officials are investigating whether the devastating May 12 quake could have been triggered by pressure from a large reservoir near the quake’s epicentre.

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