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macon.com MIDDAY UPDATE: Officials in China rush to evacuate 80,000; May consumer confidence falls to near 16-year low; Bush raising money for McCain

Chinese officials rushed today to evacuate another 80,000 people in the path of potential floodwaters building up behind a quake-spawned dam as soldiers carved a channel to try to drain away the threat.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported emergency workers would try to complete the evacuation by midnight, taking the number of people moved out of the threatened valley to almost 160,000, from more than 30 townships.

The Tangjiashan lake in northern Sichuan province, formed when a massive landslide blocked a river, is one of dozens of fragile dams created during the earthquake that pose a new destructive threat in the disaster zone.

Soldiers hauled explosives through the mountains to reach the area, and the official Chinese Daily said today on its Web site they were ‘‘preparing to dynamite the barrier.’’ State television showed live footage of heavy earth-moving equipment being used to carve out a 200-yard channel to drain the water.

The lake is swelling behind a landslide near Beichuan, one of the towns hit hardest by the May 12 tremor that devastated Sichuan.

The number of deaths from the quake has climbed further toward an expected toll of 80,000 or more. The Cabinet said today that 67,183 people were confirmed killed — up by about 2,000 from a day earlier — and 20,790 still were missing.

– Associated Press

May consumer confidence falls to near 16-year low

Soaring gas prices and weakening job prospects left shoppers gloomier about the economy in May, sending a key barometer of consumer sentiment to its lowest level in almost 16 years.

The New York-based Conference Board said today that its Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 57.2, down from a revised 62.8 in April. Economists surveyed by Thomson Financial/IFR had expected a reading of 60.

The May reading marks the fifth straight month of decline and is the lowest since the index registered 54.6 in October 1992 when the economy was coming out of a recession.

Economists closely watch sentiment readings because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity.

‘‘Weakening business and job conditions coupled with growing pessimism about the short-term future have further depleted consumers’ confidence in the overall state of the economy,’’ Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center, said in a statement.

Franco said consumers’ worries about inflation, fueled by increasing prices at the gas pump, are now at an ‘‘all-time high’’ and are likely to rise further in the months ahead. She added that based on consumers’ outlook on the economy, she believes there’s little likelihood of a quick turnaround.

The downbeat news came as investors received mixed news about the housing market. A closely tracked Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index showed that housing prices dropped at the sharpest rate in two decades during the first quarter, indicating that the housing slump continues to deepen.

The S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index fell 14.1 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, the lowest since its inception in 1988. The quarterly index covers all nine U.S. Census divisions.

But the Commerce Department announced that sales of new homes rose in April for the first time in six months although the unexpected increase still left activity near the lowest level in 17 years.

Sales of new homes rose 3.3 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 526,000 units, the agency said.

– Associated Press

Bush raising money for McCain in private

President Bush is plunging into a fundraising tour for Sen. John McCain, but don’t expect to see much of the two men together.

Today, the president begins a three-day Western trip in Arizona, home state of McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Bush will cap the day by holding a closed fundraiser with McCain in Phoenix.

The event marks the first time Bush, whose popularity still sags at record lows, will appear with McCain since he endorsed him at the White House nearly three months ago. The two will appear together in public only briefly, for a photo at the Phoenix airport.

Bush is also holding two private fundraisers for McCain on Wednesday in Utah.

– Associated Press

WHAT'S COMING UP ON MACON.COM

— We'll update you on applications for disaster relief after the Mother's Day tornado in Bibb County.

— More little leaguers in the midstate - this time from Macon - got a chance to head to Williamsport, Pa., during the Memorial Day weekend. Check back to find out what they were doing there and all of the excitement that ensued.

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