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The mighty Yangtze - blocked!

On the banks of China's Yangtze River, workers chipping away with hammers and driving giant earth-movers are toiling around-the-clock to block the waterway for construction of the giant Three Gorges Dam.

A steady stream of trucks is dumping tons of rocks and boulders into the muddy, 66-foot-deep water channel each day.Two opposing walls will form an enclosure when they are completed on Nov. 8 - an event that will be broadcast live on national television and attended by Premier Li Peng, the Chinese leader associated most closely with the world's mightiest dam.

When the water has been drained away, the dam's massive concrete walls will rise from the dry riverbed to a height of 607 feet.

Beijing has aspired to the glory of a dam across the world's third longest river, after the Nile and the Amazon, since revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen first proposed it in 1919.

It is trumpeting the blocking as one of the great engineering feats of this century.

Yet the river will not be blocked completely on Nov. 8 - only between one shore and an island that now stands toward the other bank. A narrow channel will allow cargo and tourist ships to continue plying the Yangtze.

That channel will be blocked later, and two locks will eventually offer passage to vessels.

Project engineers said they chose early November to block the river because the chances of rain derailing the ceremony by swelling the waterway was slight.

"Timing is essential," said Li Junlin, a senior engineer with the Project Construction Co. under the China Yangtze Three Gorges Corp.

"But the most difficult part is already past," Li said. The May to September flood season hampered work on the "cofferdams" - the temporary barriers now being hastily completed.

Launched in 1994, the Three Gorges dam is the most ambitious civil engineering project in the world and will take 15 years to complete.

At Sandouping, the dam site in the central province of Hubei, workers have blasted a 1,640-foot-wide pit that will house 12 of the dam's 26 massive generators.

Each of the largest generators ever built will be capable of pumping out 800 megawatts of electricity, equal to one medium-size nuclear power station.

The first turbines will roar into life in 2003, and the last will begin spinning six years later.

Premier Li and other Chinese leaders are to fly to the dam site for an official blocking ceremony.

Billboards are everywhere at the sprawling construction site. They bear patriotic slogans in huge red Chinese characters inspiring workers to greater efforts.

"Aspire to build the Three Gorges Dam for our China," proclaims one sign.

Proponents of the dam say it is needed to help power the country's economic boom and to control devastating floods that have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past few decades.

Critics say it will wreak havoc with the Yangtze ecology.