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Chinese Rescuers Evacuate Towns; Government Allocates Millions for 'Quake Lakes'

Residents of the southwestern Chinese village of Tianlin are conducting emergency drills with gongs and loudspeakers, in preparation for possible flooding if an earthquake-formed lake bursts its dam and inundates the town.

Officials have evacuated more than 150,000 people from around the so-called "quake lake." They have allocated millions of dollars to deal with that lake and more than two dozen others like it. The lakes were created when a massive May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province caused natural dams to form in rivers.

Premier Wen Jiabao says dealing with the quake lakes is a top priority. Workers are digging a channel to help drain off the Tangjiashan lake near Tianlin village, although authorities say it will be days before the work is complete.

Chinese officials say the death toll from the earthquake has surpassed 68,000, with nearly 20,000 more people missing.

Japan's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that Chinese officials have asked its military to fly relief supplies to China. Japan says it is considering the offer. If Japan agrees, it would be the first time its military has been deployed to China since the end of World War II.

In related news, China's official news agency, Xinhua, reports that heavy rains in southern and eastern China have killed at least 53 people in the past week and left 4,000 stranded.

The report says most of the deaths occurred in the southern province of Guizhou, which lies just south of Sichuan. Others died in four other provinces and some 26 people are still missing.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.