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China observes day of mourning for mudslide victims

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 15, 2010
Flags were flying at half mast and public entertainment cancelled Sunday as China marked a national day of mourning for the more than 1,200 people killed by massive mudslides in the northwest.

Thousands of residents and rescuers in Zhouqu, the remote mountain region in Gansu province flattened by last weekend's landslides, stopped search efforts to take part in a ceremony to remember the victims, state television said.

Sirens wailed as mourners, wearing white paper flowers and some still clutching their shovels, observed a three-minute silence at 10:00 am.

Rescuers and medics later resumed their duties, clearing debris from the swollen Bailong River, searching for bodies buried under sludge and spraying disinfectant to prevent a disease outbreak, the Xinhua news agency said.

President Hu Jintao and other top leaders also paid tribute to the victims, as flags across the country and at overseas embassies were flown at half-mast and public entertainment such as movies, karaoke, online games and television was suspended, state media reports said.

State television broadcast images of about 10,000 people gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing early Sunday to watch a special flag-raising ceremony while other ceremonies were held across the country.

Shortly after midnight, the home pages of Chinese websites turned black and white while newspapers were stripped of colour in a show of mourning, Xinhua said.

In Hong Kong, flags on government buildings were lowered and a daily evening light show in the harbour was cancelled out of respect for those killed in the devastating mudslides which buried entire villages.

According to Chinese tradition, the seventh day after a death marks the height of the mourning period.

Authorities said 505 people in Zhouqu were still missing after the avalanche of mud and rocks last Saturday night, which levelled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 300 metres wide.

The official death toll stood at 1,239 as of Saturday.

Authorities are struggling to keep up with demand for coffins in the devastated region, whose population is one-third Tibetan, the China Daily said.

Authorities warned heavy rains would continue into Sunday and said further flash floods, landslides and floating debris continued to pose dangers in Gansu province and neighbouring Sichuan, Xinhua said.

In Sichuan, at least 38 people were missing after landslides Saturday destroyed hospital buildings in Wenchuan county, the epicentre of an earthquake in May 2008 that left nearly 87,000 dead or missing, Xinhua said previously. About 10,000 people were evacuated as the government turned schools and municipal office buildings into temporary shelters, it said.

Elsewhere in Gansu, new floods and landslides have killed 34 people and left 63 missing in the city of Longnan close to Zhouqu, Xinhua said.

More than 122,000 residents in Longnan have been evacuated after more than 150 millimetres (six inches) of rain fell overnight on Wednesday.

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.

The civil affairs ministry said Friday it had not calculated a new nationwide flood death toll.

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