Landslide kills scores in China

Rubble-strewn floodwaters
tore through a remote corner of northwestern China on Sunday, smashing
buildings, overturning cars and killing at least 127 people.

Half of an entire town was
under water and an estimated 2,000 more people were missing in the latest
deluge in a summer that has seen China’s worst seasonal flooding in a decade.

Terrified residents fled to
high ground or upper stories of apartment buildings after a debris-blocked
river overflowed during the night in the northwestern province of Gansu.

Worst hit was the county
seat of Zhouqu in the province’s Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, with the
official Xinhua News Agency reporting half of it under water. Many houses
collapsed and streets were covered with a yard of mud and water after the early
morning landslides, it said.

The landslides struck after
heavy rains lashed the country late Saturday and the Bailong River overflowed,
Xinhua quoted the head of Zhouqu county, Diemujiangteng, as saying,

“Now the sludge (thick mud)
has became the biggest problem to rescue operations. It’s too thick to walk or
drive through,” he was quoted as saying. State broadcaster China Central
Television said the death toll in the province was at least 127, with about
2,000 people missing. Power, water and communications were cut in affected
areas in the southern part of the province, about one-third of whose residents
are ethnic Tibetan, and it was not known how many of the missing were in danger
or simply out of contact.

The devastation was worsened
by the blockage of the river upstream, which created a 2-mile-long lake that
overfilled and sent massive waves of mud, rocks and water crashing down on the
town, ripping houses from their foundations and tearing six-story apartment
buildings in half.

Explosive experts were
flying to the scene by helicopter to demolish the blockage and safely release
potential flood waters. Tents, boxed meals and medical supplies were being
rushed to the area, where more rain was forecast through Wednesday.

CCTV said 45,000 people had
been evacuated, but the region’s remote, mountainous location was hampering the
emergency response. Heavy equipment could not be brought along the narrow access
roads, forcing rescuers to rely on shovels, picks and buckets, while scattered
stones either barred the way or caused tires to rupture. Pictures showed
streets covered in layers of mud and stones, shattered buildings and cars
washed downstream.

CCTV reported Premier Wen
Jiabao was had flown to Jiuzhaigou in neighbouring Sichuan province and was
heading to the disaster area to oversee rescue work.

The Lanzhou Military Area
Command in the provincial capital dispatched 2,400 soldiers to help with rescue
efforts. More than 1,000 firefighters and militia members from the surrounding
area were also being sent to aid relief efforts, Xinhua said.

Around China, the country’s
worst flooding in a decade has killed more than 1,100 people this year, with
more than 600 still missing. The floods have caused tens of billions of dollars
in damage across 28 provinces and regions.

Overall this year, about 875,000 homes have been destroyed,
9.61 million people evacuated, and 22 million acres of crops ruined, according to
the government’s flood control office.

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