May 17, 2012 07:05 PM

Near Three Gorges Dam, the Exodus Continues


Walls inside Zhang Haomin's home in Zhenxi Township, in Chongqing, started cracking in 2008, around the time the reservoir behind the new Three Gorges Dam neared capacity.

"Early on, the cracks were small," said Zhang, whose home is about three meters above the reservoir's surface. "The town government had us paste paper strips on the walls to monitor the cracks. Since then, the paper has broken at least three times."

For Zhang and thousands of his neighbors living in the hills around the huge Yangtze River reservoir, torn strips of paper mean the ground under their homes is settling – and that it's time to go.

Altogether, about 110,000 residents are scheduled to move to safer locales in the remaining months of 2012 as part of the next phase of an on-and-off Three Gorges Dam relocation project that began in 1993.

The latest relocation plan was unveiled in April by the Three Gorges Geological Disaster Prevention Leading Group Office, a branch of the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Due to the reservoir project, officials say, cracks have been spreading inside Zhang's and other area homes as the earth shifts. The relocation is designed to protect people from various geological hazards, the director of the disaster office, Liu Yuan, said.

In fact, the exodus is already well under way: Zhang said the number of people living on his street has fallen to about half what it was five years ago.

Most of the 1.1 million people who moved to higher ground – and in some cases all-new communities – to make way for the 148 billion yuan Three Gorges Dam between 1993 and 2008 originally lived in the valleys that flooded as the reservoir filled.

The reservoir stretches 175 kilometers through steep hills in a region that includes parts of Hubei Province and Chongqing. It provides water for the world's largest hydroelectric power plant, which was built to help satisfy the electricity demands of an increasingly energy-hungry developing country.

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