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Latest News
UPDATED: August-9-2010
127 Dead, 1300 Missing in Gansu Mudslides

At least 127 people have been confirmed dead in rain-triggered mudslides Sunday in a northwest China county, while rescuers are racing against the clock to search nearly 1,300 others who are still missing.

Heavy downpours triggered landslides and mud-rock flows in Zhouqu County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province, early Sunday morning.

The rescue headquarters in Zhouqu estimated that 1,294 people are missing as of 9 p.m. Sunday. Earlier the provincial civil affairs department put the figure at nearly 2,000.

Another 117 were injured, including 29 in serious condition, as of 9:25 p.m.. In addition, 1,242 have been rescued from debris or brought to safety from places such as tops of buildings.

About 45,000 people have been evacuated, according to a statement from the provincial civil affairs department.

The water level in the county seat of Chengguan Township had declined by 40 cm, after floodwaters carrying mud and rocks submerged half the town in the small hours on Sunday, said Mao Shengwu, head of the prefecture.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao instructed the Gansu provincial government and other related departments to spare no efforts to save lives. Wen arrived at Zhouqu County at 4:35 p.m.

The China National Committee for Disaster Reduction, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters and the Ministry of Civil Affairs have lifted the national disaster relief response level to grade II, the second highest level.

Rescue efforts

The Bailong River, which runs through the county seat, overflowed after being blocked by landslide and a large body of slow-moving water had engulfed Chengguan Township.

More than 300 homes in Yueyuan Village had been buried, with the number of casualties still unknown, Mao said.

The mud-rock flow has leveled an area of about 5 km long and 500 meters wide in the county seat with about 1.8 million cubic meters of mud and rocks. More than 20,000 people have been affected.

Sludge as deep as two meters spread across some major roads in the county, driving many trapped residents atop buildings.

"Torrential rains began to fall at around 10 p.m. Saturday. Then there were mudslides and many people became trapped. Now sludge has become the biggest hinderance to rescue operations. It's too thick to walk or drive through," said Diemujiangteng, head of the county.

"Since excavators can't reach the site, we can only use spades and our hands to rescue the buried," said He Youxin, an officer with the Gannan branch of the Gansu Headquarters of Chinese People's Armed Police Force.

His rescue team has saved 23 people and recovered 15 bodies. But, "It's very hard to locate the people washed away by floods. It's hard to say what their chances of survival are," he said.

The PLA (People's Liberation Army) Lanzhou Military Area Command has sent 2,560 soldiers to the landsldie-hit region. The Ministry of Public Security has sent 1,780 policemen and fire fighters with life detectors and rubber rafts to join in the rescue operation.

Hundreds of medical staff also have bee sent to the region.

Small mud-rock flows were still occurring in the county, according to a report from a 10-strong rescue team sent by the fire department of Sichuan police department.

Rescue operations, however, could be further complicated as rains were forecast for the coming five days.

Two thirds of county's power was out and some communications links were also down because of electricity cuts.

By 4:14 p.m., power supplies in some parts of Zhouqu, including the temporary settlement center, hospitals, two middle schools and communications base stations, were resumed.

The roads in the outskirts of Zhouqu County had reopened after they were blocked by the mudslides.

By 3 p.m., the provincial civil affairs department has sent 3,900 tents, about 40,000 boxes of instant noodles and 31,300 boxes of bottled drinking water to the county.

The county badly needs 400 tonnes of drinking water and 20 tonnes of instant food per day, said a spokesman with the prefecture's government.

It would need 10,000 tonnes of water and 500 tonnes of instant food in the following 25 days, after which life was expected to return to normal, said the spokesman.

The Ministry of Finance announced Sunday said it had allocated 500 million yuan ($73 million) in emergency aid to fund rescue efforts.

Witness accounts, barrier lake

Peng Wei, head of the county's fire department said, "I heard the fierce storm around 11:30 p.m. last night, and later I found that a mud-rock flow had hit our residential building. The cars in the yard had all been damaged," Peng added.

"Someone said the fifth floor of my residential building had been submerged. People are busy looking for family members and friends," said Li Tiankui, a resident who lived near the Bailong River.

"Several small landslides have occurred in the valley before, but they didn't arouse much attention," Li said.

Water spewed out the sides of the Bailong River due to debris blocking it and took a different downstream course than usual, engulfing buildings along the riverbank. A total of 19,000 people living in Shawan and Lianghekou townships situated below the lake had been evacuated, Mao said.

The mudslides occurred at around midnight in Zhouqu County, when the residents were asleep, and a clogged lake formed on the Bailong River at around 1 a.m.

The barrier lake is 2.6 km long, containing 2 million cubic meters of water, according to the provincial flood control department.

Two helicopters carrying demolition experts left for the landslide-hit county at 6:30 a.m. Sunday to blow up materials blocking the river's flow, according to the provincial flood relief headquarters.

Zhouqu County covers 3,010 square km and has a population of 134,700, about 33 percent of which are Tibetans. It is located in the southeast part of the prefecture, the seat of which is about 276 km away from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu.

(Xinhua News Agency August 8, 2010)

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