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Some villagers linger despite flood evacuation in China

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QINGLIAN, China — As others rushed for higher ground, the Liu family sat at home sipping tea and watching TV reports of a possible massive flood.

Armed police came the night before to tell them to leave. A warning spray-painted outside their door marked a flood line the height of their floor.

"We're waiting until the last moment," said farmer Liu Zhenyang, 35. "Then we'll run to the hills."

Authorities were evacuating the last of some 200,000 people on Sunday from the path of waters threatening to spill from a lake formed when China's May 12 earthquake blocked the Tongkou River with a landslide. But after weeks of chaos and uncertainty, some were reluctant to be uprooted again.

Men in camouflage uniforms and bright orange life vests sealed off villages along the river, leaving them empty and silent. It was too soon to know if a newly completed channel to drain off the swelling river was working.

Liu's home in the village of Qinglian was fine. But his family, about 10 members in all, had no tent to live in if they moved away from the flood zone.

"That's the main problem, the lack of tents," Liu Zhenyang said. "The government said there were no more. But we understand."

With no assurance of when — or even if — the flood might come, some said they were ready to outrun, outbike or outdrive any water. Xia Chengyi bicycled by, saying he got an hour's permission to come back and feed the pigs of 13 families.

"We have a car. If the water comes, we'll run for it," said 59-year-old Yang Xiufu, his grandson on his lap. "Such trouble! We don't know when the water is coming."

Two police officers took turns posing for photos in front of an empty plaza dedicated to the long-ago famous poet Li Bai, who legend says drowned when he leaped drunk into a lake to embrace the reflection of the moon.

Residents rolled up their tents in the badly damaged village of Jiuling and began headed towards the hills, most on foot and one driving a tractor of green beans.

"The army came this morning. They told us to leave immediately," Yue Chengdi, a 58-year-old farmer, said. But he'd wanted to check his crops first.

Soldiers patrolled the empty, shattered lanes in groups of four. A tent had collapsed in the rush to leave. Playing cards were left scattered in the dust.

On top of nearby Taohuashan, or Peach Blossom Mountain, hundreds of families were waiting to see if their homes below would be swept away. People said the government would warn everyone with sirens and firecrackers if the lake burst. Clusters of blue relief tents were set high on the hillsides.

The quake killed at least 69,000 and left millions homeless. Not even survivors are safe: A search was underway Sunday for a military helicopter that crashed a day earlier near the epicenter, Wenchuan, carrying 14 people injured in the quake and five crew members, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Zang Zifang has moved her tent five times to higher ground since authorities started worrying about the quake lake. "I got here the day before yesterday," she said, exasperated.

Her house below was just fine after the quake. Now she doesn't know if she'll lose it in what the government calls a secondary disaster.

"We knew nothing about the earthquake. At least this we know about in advance," said Zang Shicai, a 64-year-old men in a tent nearby.

Upriver, on a side road, even the traffic was gone. Two women walked down the empty road from Tongkou, now a closed village. Each carried a woven basket and an umbrella, for the afternoon sun.

"No one else is left," they said. One's family name was Wang, the other Tang. "We just came back for some things. The government said the water was coming, but we don't know when."

They smiled and walked on, and seemed to be in no hurry.