Dozens dead, over 2,000 missing in China mudslides

Rescue teams dug through crushed homes and blasted away debris clogging a river valley.

Dozens dead, over 2,000 missing in China mudslides

Mudslides engulfed a town in northwest China on Sunday, killing nearly 100 people and leaving perhaps 2,000 residents missing as rescue teams dug through crushed homes and blasted away debris clogging a river valley.

The mudslides and flooding hit Zhouqu County in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province, an area dominated by steep and barren hills, after torrential rains late on Saturday, the Xinhua news agency said, citing local officials.

Runoff from the downpour banked up behind a landslide in the narrow valley on the Bailong River near the main town in Zhouqu.

The clogged river coursing through the town triggered flooding and mudslides that struck there after midnight, smashed a small hydro station, and left at least 96 dead, according to Xinhua and Chinese television.

The disaster follows flooding in Pakistan which has killed more than 1,600 people and in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Flash floods have killed at least 132 people in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.

China's death toll could rise sharply as Premier Wen Jiabao headed to the scene. Over 2,000 people were missing, according to one Xinhua report, but later news reports said officials were still trying to arrive at an estimate of the missing.

Rescue officials told Chinese television the mud and wreckage made it impossible to use heavy machinery.

"Many single-story homes have been wiped out and now we're waiting to see how many people got out," one resident of Zhouqu, a merchant called Han Jiangping, told Reuters by phone.

"We've had landslides before, but never anything this bad. People are trying to find their families and waiting for more rescuers."

At one point, the flooding covered about half of the Zhouqu county town, which has about 40,000 residents, and inundated a nearby village of 300 families, said state media. The flood water reached up to three stories high on some buildings.

About 2,800 troops and a hundred medical workers were sent to help, Xinhua said.

"Now the sludge has become the biggest problem to rescue operations. It's too thick to walk or drive through," said the head of the county, Diemujiangteng, according to Xinhua.

China's ruling Communist Party has become adept at showing its strength by mobilising troops, aid and propaganda in the face of natural calamities, such as a massive earthquake in 2008. Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen told officials to "spare no efforts to save lives", said Xinhua.

Floods

More than 1,400 people have been killed this year in floods that have devastated areas of central and southern China, according to the national disaster relief authority.

Pictures from Zhouqu showed mud and water covering town streets, motor vehicles being swept downstream by the torrent, and troops frantically digging through debris to hunt for victims, including a boy pulled from a shattered house. Xinhua said the mud dumped on the streets was up to a metre deep.

"There was thunder and huge rain, and then the landslides started coming down," said a resident of Zhouqu contacted by Reuters. He gave only his surname, Bai.

"That was about midnight, so some people must have been in their homes, asleep and didn't know what was happening," he said.

Many residents of Gannan are ethnic Tibetan herders and farmers and the rough terrain may hamper rescue efforts. Zhouqu County has about 135,000 residents, about a third of them ethnic Tibetans, according to the county government.

Troops used explosives to blast away some of the remaining mud and rocks blocking the river, creating a backlog of water 5 kilometres long, the television news said.

About 19,000 people living in two town below the blockage were moved away, the reports said.


Reuters

Last Mod: 08 Ağustos 2010, 12:35
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