July 23, 2008 / 1:54 AM / 11 years ago

Last Three Gorges Dam migrants evacuate as water rises

A general view of the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, central China's Hubei province, November 27, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has finished evacuating the last town to be submerged by the giant Three Gorges Dam, making way for water levels in the reservoir to rise to their final height of 175 meters above sea level, state media said.

The final residents of Gaoyang in central Hubei province left on Tuesday, the end of an exodus that began four years ago, the official Xinhua agency reported.

In total, some 1.4 million people have been moved to make way for the waters behind a 2,309-metre-long dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric feat. It aims to tame the Yangtze River and provide clean, cheap energy for China’s rapid development.

Critics of the dam say that pollution and geological threats are piling up. Scientists have said that rising waters in the 660-km (400-mile) long reservoir have strained already brittle slopes, triggering landslides, which may worsen when waters reach a maximum height.

A big mudslide hit a village in the Gaoyang area in April, sweeping into the local school’s playground and part of the village. And a landslide nearby killed 35 people late last year.

But officials said last year that 12 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) had been allocated over past years to “geological repairs”, and they were confident that such efforts were working.

Finished in 2003, the water level has risen in stages, reaching 156 meters in 2006. It is expected to reach its final height next year.

Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Nick Macfie

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