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UPDATED: May 27, 2008 NO. 22 MAY 29, 2008
Not Out of the Woods Yet

Rescue work continues day and night in the affected areas after a massive earthquake hit southwest China's Sichuan Province. Over 100,000 troops have been deployed to repair roads and rebuild infrastructure. Supplies of relief materials and medical aid are reaching those in most need.

After a three-day mourning period for victims of the Wenchuan earthquake on May 12, more social concerns have been placed on recovery efforts in the affected areas, where millions have been left homeless, children newly orphaned and survivors handicapped.

At the same time, many challenges to the recovery efforts remain, and the government is warning of earthquake-related disasters, possible epidemic outbreaks or the bursting of blocked lakes. Usually after an earthquake, incidental flooding, fires, landslides, the spreading of infectious diseases, contamination of drinking water and dam leakage occur, in addition to safety hazards triggered by radioactive pollution. If not properly dealt with, we can image how serious they could be.

The possibility of an epidemic after the disaster has posed new threats to the victims. The Chinese Government is on high alert to prevent an outbreak by taking various measures in advance. But the basin-formed topography and rising temperature after days of downpours have added extra difficulties to providing clean water and maintaining sanitation standards. Due to the quake areas' inconvenient access routes and rugged terrain, viruses may spread fast before being contained and brought under control. Through the joint efforts of medical staff in the areas, the medical situation is stable and no major case has been reported yet.

Along the upper stream of the Minjiang River, where Wenchuan is situated, 29 dams producing hydropower are working normally. But continuous aftershocks will further destroy the quake areas' already loose geological system, which could collapse bridges and roads and potentially threaten the safety of already cracking and leaking dams. It may take months or even years to discover this damage, and it will require scientific studies and timely warnings from the authorities for mass evacuations to avoid more disasters.

Rocks moved by landslides have blocked the flow of rivers, becoming a major source of concern. Some of the rivers are overflowing rapidly and very likely to burst their banks if not properly handled. Experts predict that every blocked river could be a time bomb that might explode during big rains. If devastating flooding submerges the area of the lower reaches, the situation will be much worse.

The Ministry of Water Resources has initiated an all-time monitoring of these blocked rivers and lakes to prevent them from bursting. If the crisis deepens, it will send warning signals for early evacuation.

The government's quick response to the crisis and its dedication to earthquake relief have been highly praised by the Chinese people and the international community. But there are still many challenges ahead. Also, the government's capacity will be tested in the process of preventing more earthquake-related disasters and helping the Sichuan people rebuild their homes and lives.

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