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Chinese Lake Threatens to Overflow;  600,000 Evacuated - 2002-08-23

China is evacuating 600,00 people from around a large lake as it threatens to overflow. Flooded roads are hindering relief efforts.

Chinese media say the rain-swollen Dongting Lake in Hunan Province continues to rise, despite attempts by 800,000 citizens and thousands of soldiers to shore up dikes.

The official China Daily newspaper Friday says flooding in Hunan, in central China, has already killed at least 16 people and affected more than eight-million people. It cites statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs as saying 27,000 houses have collapsed and more than 400,000 hectares of farmland have been damaged.

The Hunan government is spending more than $3 million on emergency relief work. China's Red Cross has delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid to flooded areas.

Yang Xusheng, a Red Cross official in Beijing, said his agency has set up disaster response centers in Changsha, Hunan's capital, and other cities. The Red Cross has shipped thousands of tents, blankets, rice and medical supplies to Hunan since the start of the flood season in June.

But Mr. Yang said many roads in the area have been blocked by water, hindering relief efforts. Supplies to small villages can only be delivered by boat. He says the rain has slowed, but four rivers continue to dump water in the lake, causing it to rise to almost 35 meters, several meters above the flood warning level.

Dongting Lake is China's second largest freshwater lake, covering almost 4,000 square kilometers. Officials warn of a possible crisis over the weekend, as the flooded Yangzi River surges into the lake.

Heavy rains in China this summer have already killed about a thousand people in floods or landslides.