BEIJING (AP) — China has launched its biggest relocation program since the Three Gorges Dam, with 330,000 residents set to be moved to new homes to make way for a water project that will serve thirsty Beijing.

The first group of 499 villagers was moved Wednesday in central China's Hubei province and a total of 60,000 people were to be relocated by Sept. 30, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday. The rest will be moved by 2014, it said.

The South-North Water Diversion Project will siphon water from the Yangtze River to serve drought-prone north China cities such as Beijing and Tianjin.

Danjiangkou city in Hubei is to eventually submerged under 170 yards (meters) of water, it said. Residents from the city's Niuhelin district were the first batch to be moved out.

"I am surprised nobody cried when the coaches left our village. Last night, we felt sorrow when the whole village gathered to have our last dinner in our hometown together," a villager surnamed Wang was quoted as saying.

The $23 billion Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project, forced more than 1.4 million people to move, their villages flooded by a 410-mile (660-kilometer) -long reservoir that the dam created on the middle Yangtze. That project was completed in 2006.