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China mudslide town lacking supplies as rescuers end search

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 16, 2010
Sludge-blocked roads are keeping urgent food and medicine from reaching survivors of deadly mudslides in northwest China, officials said Monday, as rescuers ended the search for hundreds still missing.

Thousands of soldiers sent to Zhouqu, a remote town in Gansu province flattened by landslides over a week ago, have stopped digging for bodies to prevent an outbreak of disease, the local government told AFP.

Rescuers instead have stepped up efforts to clear the thick mud from the streets and drain floodwaters amid warnings of more torrential rain over coming days, said Zhouqu county government spokeswoman Yan Jinxin.

The official death toll rose on Monday to 1,254, with 490 others still listed as missing, the state Xinhua news agency reported, citing local authorities.

Zhouqu was virtually split in two when an avalanche of mud and rocks swept through the town following heavy rains, levelling an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 300 metres wide, according to state media.

The rain-triggered mudslides struck around midnight when most people would have been sleeping.

China on Sunday observed a national day of mourning for the victims, with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao paying tribute, flags flying at half-mast nationwide, and public entertainment cancelled.

Thick sludge has prevented vehicles from carrying supplies of bottled water, instant noodles, tents, quilts and medicines into Zhouqu, forcing local residents to walk to aid distribution areas, Yan said.

"It's not raining today but we have issued a notice that torrential rains will happen from the 16th to the 18th," Yan told AFP.

"We have asked people to prepare for the floods and we also have set up some shelters in the county."

Authorities are struggling to keep up with demand for coffins in the devastated mountainous region, whose population is one-third Tibetan, previous state media reports said.

Elsewhere in Gansu, recent floods and landslides have killed 35 people and left 61 missing in the city of Longnan, close to Zhouqu, Xinhua said. More than 122,000 residents in Longnan have been evacuated after heavy rain last week.

In neighbouring Sichuan, at least 13 people have died and 59 others are missing after landslides and floods triggered by heavy rains over the past four days.

The mudslides in Gansu are the latest in a string of weather-related disasters across China, which is battling its worst floods in a decade.

More than 2,100 people have been left dead or missing and 12 million evacuated nationwide, not including the toll from the Zhouqu incident.

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