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2,700 Evacuated from Chongqing Town
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More than 2,700 people in the town of Gongtan in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality are being evacuated amid fears that loose rocks on a neighboring mountain might fall, putting lives and homes at risk.

"The evacuation will be completed by Sunday," Wu Min, an official from the Youyang Tujia Autonomous County government, said.

Located in Youyang, Gongtan is a 1,700-year-old town famous for its 1.5-km-long street paved with bluestone and myriad ancient wooden houses.

A man carries a young girl in a basket on his back as he crosses the Wujiang River to visit relatives in Gongtan on Saturday. Amid fears of a rockfall from a nearby mountain, 2,700 residents of the 1,700-year-old town are currently being evacuated.

The threat was first noted two years ago when the town held a mountain climbing contest and participants reported that the peak was littered with dangerous rocks.

"Earlier this year, the county government invited a team from the Chongqing Geological and Mineral Reconnaissance and Development Bureau to check the site. They found more than 20,000 cubic meters of dangerous rocks on the mountain, which could threaten half the town if they fell," Wu said.

You Gong, a chief engineer with the bureau, said that perennial rainstorms and geological changes might have caused the loosening of the rocks.

The section of Gongtan at risk encompasses the government building, high school and hospital.

The county government ordered the evacuation of residents in the danger zone last Wednesday. The high school subsequently announced the suspension of classes for one month, as nearly half of those being evacuated are students.

Gao Wen, a 67-year-old farmer from the town, said: "I have seen lots of people driving trucks loaded with their belongings as they try to leave town."

With 317 households in need of evacuation, the town government has issued each with a card telling them which way to head in the event of an emergency.

"The card also says that an alarm will be sounded if the situation becomes dangerous," Wu said.

Zhang Rong, a retired school teacher who lives with his wife and 10-year-old grandson, said that since getting the card, he has repeatedly told his grandson to run with him to the bridge in the south of the town if he hears the alarm signal.

"The bridge is where the card tells us to go," said Zhang who has been looking for a house to rent outside the danger zone.

"But it is difficult to find a proper house outside the zone because so many people are being evacuated," he said.

Mei You, an official with the town government, said that evacuees would have to live with relatives or rent temporary homes until a team from the bureau could eradicate the threat of falling rocks.

Mei said the team would remove the rocks by blasting, once the evacuation had been completed.

Luo Xiaobo, general manager of Gongtan's tourism company advised any visitors to the area not to stay in hotels in the danger zone.

(China Daily April 10, 2007)

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