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China Begins Three Gorges Reservoir Bed Clean-up

Boom! Boom! Boom! A series of explosions blasted away a building in the reservoir area of China's Three Gorges Project at 13:40 hours Sunday, marking the start of the countdown to water storage and power generation at the Three Gorges Project.

"This is the prelude to evacuation on a broader scale and the countdown to water injection and power generation," said Gan Yuping, deputy mayor of this western China metropolis and deputy director of the Committee for the Construction of Three Gorges Project Under the State Council.

Xue Fengsong, an explosives expert, said that all the debris will be shipped to a designated place and buried deep underground.

Meanwhile, ancient bas-reliefs have been cut from a cliff at Qutang Gorge, one of the Three Gorges, and transported to a safe site about 600 meters downstream. This was the first batch of ancient cultural relics to be moved from the construction site of the Three Gorges Project, the largest of its kind in the world.

Not far from the same cliff, excavation of the ruins of a city of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) is well under way. The city wall of the Fengjie County town, ancient tombs and typical ancient houses will also be moved above the reservoir water line before the county is submerged.

The relocation work drew journalists from dozens of local and overseas media organizations, as well as a large crowd of on-lookers.

The demolished building was that of the Yong'an Township Government, which was built 20 years ago. It collapsed in a matter of seconds. Soon afterwards, newly appointed county head Fei Wenbin and his colleagues headed for their new office building, which is 1,000 sq. meters larger than the original one.

The Fengjie County Thermal Power Plant, which was also demolished Sunday, had been closed for causing heavy pollution. Its 300 workers had been assigned new jobs and the retired workers receive their pension once a month at the county social security bureau, said the factory's old director Liu Keming.

Construction of the Three Gorges Project will inundate 632 sq km of land. When the dam is completed in 2009, 1,100 villages will be submerged. One third of the 1.03 million residents have already moved to new homes in resettlement villages. Another 100,000 people are expected to move out this year.

A number of new cities for resettlers have been built on both sides of the Yangtze River. At the new site of the Fengjie County seat, three schools have already begun to recruit students. Two hospitals and several department stores have opened there.

The largest-scale rescue of cultural relics in Chinese history has entered a critical stage. In order to save the most important cultural relics before the first-stage water storage of the Three Gorges Dam starts in June 2003, archaeologists from across the nation are working day and night at some 1,000 sites of cultural relics.

"The resettlement towns will house as many vestiges of ancient civilization as possible," said Shao Weidong, an official in charge of the archaeological work at the Three Gorges.

(Xinhua News Agency January 21, 2002)

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