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Death toll in China mudslides jumps to 337

Death toll rises to 165 in Indian Himalayan floods
Leh, India (AFP) Aug 9, 2010 - The death toll from flash floods in India's remote Himalayan region of Ladakh reached 165 on Monday, with officials warning that hundreds of people were still missing. Sudden rains before dawn on Friday caused floods that swept away roads, homes, bridges and power cables. Rescuers fear many more victims died after being buried in a tide of rock and mud. Thousands of Indian soldiers, police and paramilitary troops have led the relief operation, trying to reach buried homes and treating the injured. "The government today confirmed that 165 deaths have occurred in Leh so far due to the cloudburst and flashfloods, of which 150 bodies have been identified," an official statement said Monday evening. Officials said more than 400 have been injured.

Many people are feared buried in the village of Choglamsar on the outskirts of Leh. Sniffer dogs were in action on Monday to locate bodies. Some 140 foreign tourists stuck in the Zanskar valley were flown back to Leh by air force helicopters, army spokesman J.S. Brar told AFP in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir. He said the remote Zanskar valley had been cut off by the floods. "Our basic aim is to cater to the needs of injured and those who are displaced. We are doing our best," Brar said. Nearly 200 other foreigners were stranded elsewhere in Ladakh but efforts were underway to get them back to Leh, where the airport has remained open. Among those feared dead are 26 Indian soldiers stationed at a small army post on the de facto border with Pakistan, Lieutenant General S. K. Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.

"Our total losses are 26 (men) and I think the bulk of them would be buried under the rubble," he said. "However, it cannot be ruled out that some of them could have been washed away." Roads to Ladakh are blocked due to landslides, and officials said it would take at least one more week to restore the Srinagar-Leh route as the army engineers repair five bridges and stretches of damaged road. The Manali-Leh highway is also blocked. Telephone networks have been severely affected, while Leh has suffered major electrical supply problems. Some shops opened for the first time since the "cloudburst" struck in the middle of the night. The Indian government has organised for 20,000 bottles of drinking water to be airlifted to the region.

Ladakh is a highly militarised area because of border disputes with both Pakistan and China. It is also renowned for its ancient Buddhist monasteries, and its mountains and rivers attract international adventure tourists. The town of Leh, situated in an arid mountain desert at an altitude of 3,505 metres (11,500 feet), receives virtually no rainfall all year and has no planned drainage system. The floods came as neighbouring Pakistan suffered the worst flooding in its history with 13.8 million people affected and at least 1,600 people killed.
by Staff Writers
Zhouqu, China (AFP) Aug 10, 2010
The death toll from mudslides in northwest China surged to 337 on Monday, as rescuers used diggers and their bare hands in a desperate search for more than 1,000 others still missing.

At least three villages were flattened by an avalanche of mud and rocks triggered by heavy rains in a remote area of Gansu province late Saturday -- the latest deadly disaster as China battles its worst flooding in a decade.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who visited the devastated area Sunday and Monday, urged rescue workers to do everything possible to find survivors and get aid to tens of thousands of people without food or drinking water.

"The key tasks and challenges are expanding the scope for search and rescue, dealing with the barrier lake (caused by mudslides) in a timely and scientific manner, cleaning the sludge and resuming the supply of drinking water," Wen was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying Monday.

State television ran images of him comforting survivors as he put himself at the heart of the rescue effort.

Wen met local government officials late Sunday and discussed the resettlement of survivors and raised the issue of improving early warning systems, Xinhua said.

"Geological research must be strengthened in order to detect potentially dangerous areas, and local residents must be evacuated in time from these regions," he said according to state media.

The death toll jumped to 337 late Monday from an earlier figure of 137, Xinhua said, quoting Chen Jianhua, communist party chief of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous prefecture. Another 1,148 others were missing.

Chen said 218 injured survivors had been taken to local hospitals with 41 seriously injured people transferred to the provincial capital Lanzhou for treatment.

He told a press briefing that families of dead will be given a payment of 8,000 yuan (1,200 dollars) for each family member lost in the disaster.

Early Monday, 34 hours after the landslides, rescuers saved a 74-year-old woman in hardest-hit Zhouqu county, where streets were covered in mud two metres (six feet) thick in places and more than 300 homes were destroyed.

The woman was in stable condition and able to speak, Xinhua said. State television showed her being carried away on a stretcher.

The landslides swept mud, houses, cars and other debris into a river running through Zhouqu, blocking the waterway and triggering flooding in the mountainous area, the government said.

The mudslides levelled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 500 metres wide, Xinhua said, with floodwaters up to three storeys high submerging half the county. Roads and bridges were destroyed.

In the centre of the county seat, the pungent odour of corpses permeated the air. Bodies were scattered along the sides of the main road, which was covered in knee-deep soft mud. Residents wandered about, searching for their relatives.

"Eighteen people from our village have gone missing," a woman who only gave her name as Zhao told AFP. Her neighbour, 26-year-old Jin Xuecai, lost his wife, mother and two children.

Only the body of his three-year-old daughter had been found. Jin cremated the girl's remains at the side of the road, staring in silent shock and disbelief at the flames.

Near the Bailong river, three men burned paper, a ritual carried out in honour of the dead, on an arch above a partly flooded road.

He Xinchao, a 44-year-old man who was rescued with his three-year-old son on Sunday, told the China Daily newspaper that he had clung to a pole overnight to survive.

"That night, I went to the door to check what had happened after I heard a strong wind and unusual rumbling," he said.

"As soon as I opened the door, mud squeezed in... For the entire night, water and mud kept rising, covering my chest and edging up to my neck."

Nine members of his family were still missing and feared dead, he said.

Authorities have sent more than 4,500 soldiers, police, firefighters and medics to help in search and rescue efforts.

"We have heard signs of life, cellphones ringing and faint cries for help," Xu Jiaming, who was commanding a group of 500 soldiers, told Xinhua.

Residents and rescuers in Zhouqu used odds and ends to build makeshift stretchers to remove dead bodies. Not far from town, about a dozen corpses had been lined up in a parking lot, awaiting identification.

More rain was forecast from Wednesday.

By late Monday nearly 160,000 people had been evacuated from Shandong, according to Xinhua, as the cost of property and crop losses reached 520 million yuan (77 million dollars).

The government had said more than 2,100 people were dead or missing nationwide in flood-related disasters before the Gansu mudslides. More than 12 million others have been evacuated from their homes.

earlier related report
Rescuers save woman, hunt for survivors in China mudslides
Wenxian, China (AFP) Aug 9, 2010 - Rescuers searching for survivors of deadly weekend mudslides in northwest China pulled an elderly woman from the debris Monday, buoying hopes that more of the 1,300 missing could be found.

At least three villages were flattened by an avalanche of mud and rocks triggered by heavy rains in a remote area of Gansu province late Saturday, killing at least 127 people.

China is battling the worst flooding it has seen in a decade, with more than 2,100 people dead or missing nationwide before the Gansu disaster.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who arrived in the devastated area Sunday, urged thousands of rescue workers at the scene to hasten efforts to find survivors and provide relief to 45,000 people who have been evacuated.

"For those buried under the debris, now it's the most crucial time to save their lives," Wen was quoted by state Xinhua news agency as saying Sunday, adding that efforts would continue as long as hopes of survival existed.

Early Monday, 34 hours after the landslides, those hopes were boosted when rescuers saved a 74-year-old woman in hardest-hit Zhouqu county, where streets were covered in mud two metres (yards) thick in some places.

The woman, whose name was not immediately known, was in stable condition and able to speak, but was weak from hunger and thirst, Xinhua said, citing a rescue headquarters spokesman.

The landslides swept mud, houses, cars and other debris into a river running through Zhouqu, blocking the waterway and triggering flooding in the area, surrounded by mountains on both sides, the government said.

The mudslides levelled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 500 metres wide, Xinhua said, with floodwaters up to three storeys high submerging half the county.

"That night, I went to the door to check what had happened after I heard a strong wind and unusual rumbling," He Xinchao, a 44-year-old man who was rescued with his three-year-old son on Sunday, told China Daily.

"As soon as I opened the door, mud squeezed in," said He, who clung to a pole overnight to survive. "For the entire night, water and mud kept rising, covering my chest and edging up to my neck."

Nine members of He's family were still missing, he said.

Authorities have sent more than 4,500 soldiers, police, firefighters and medics to help in search and rescue efforts.

"We have heard signs of life, cellphones ringing and faint cries for help," Xu Jiaming, who was commanding a group of 500 soldiers, told Xinhua.

Soldiers and rescuers have been forced to use shovels and even their bare hands to clear the mud, as no heavy equipment was in place in the area, and would have been useless anyway, given the thickness of the sludge.

Some people awaited rescue on their rooftops. Others walked through the streets carrying their dead loved ones on wooden boards, covered in bed sheets, China Daily reported.

"That used to be my home," said 36-year-old Zhao Xinquan, whose two-storey house was destroyed, with five people inside.

"I hope I can at least find their bodies, so that they can rest in peace," he told Xinhua, wiping away tears.

Cars and homes were buried in the debris. Roads and bridges were destroyed, and many residents were without power, drinking water or phone lines Monday.

A total of 1,294 people were missing as of late Sunday, the Gansu civil affairs department said.

Nearly 90 people have been injured, Xinhua said. Thirty of them are in critical condition in hospital. Psychologists have been sent to help survivors cope with trauma.

Torrential downpours had stopped, reports said, but more rain is forecast for the coming days.

Troops used explosives on Monday to blast away the mud and debris blocking the Bailong River to prevent further flooding, Xinhua said.

Authorities have sent electricity generators, tents, instant noodles and bottled water to the region, about one third of whose residents are ethnic Tibetans.

The devastated region was also among the worst hit by an earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan province in 2008.

So far this year, more than 12 million people had been evacuated from their homes due to flooding across large swathes of China, and 1.4 million homes have been destroyed, the civil affairs ministry said Friday.

In China's northeast, entire towns have been flooded and rivers bordering North Korea swollen to critical levels. State media in that country have reported widespread flooding, without giving any casualty figures.




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UN to launch appeal as Pakistan floods affect 13.8m
Sukkur, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 10, 2010
The United Nations said Monday it is to appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan's flood victims after the crisis eclipsed the scale of the devastating 2004 tsunami. UN chief Ban Ki-moon announced the imminent appeal hours after its representatives in Pakistan said the massive floods had affected 13.8 million people. "We will soon issue an... appeal for several hundr ... read more

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