China landslide death toll rises to 700 as floods spread despair in AsiaBy David Wivell, AP
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
China landslide death toll rises to 700
ZHOUQU, China — The death toll from landslides in northwestern China more than doubled Tuesday to 702, as crews in three countries across Asia struggled to reach survivors from flooding that has afflicted millions of people.
Rescuers digging by hand through mud found a 52-year old man who had been trapped for more than 50 hours inside a leveled apartment building in the remote town of Zhouqu, where local officials said more than 1,000 other people were still missing. Rescuers with sniffer dogs discovered the man, Liu Ma Shindan, who was in weak condition but breathing normally.
In Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari returned Tuesday to a storm of criticism for visiting Europe as his country was gripped by the worst floods in its history that have affected nearly 14 million people. His arrival came as thousands of people fled a major city in central Pakistan as rivers nearby swelled and threatened to submerge the area.
And rescuers in the desert mountainsides in Indian-controlled Kashmir recovered more bodies, with the death toll rising to 165 from flash floods. Thousands of army and paramilitary soldiers continued clearing roads and removing the debris of hundreds of homes flattened in the Ladakh region by Friday’s powerful thunderstorms.
About 200 remained missing around Ladakh, said Lt. Col. J. S. Brar, an army spokesman. With the road links being restored, nearly 300 people who fled to higher ground have returned to their homes, he said.
The disaster in China’s Gansu province struck when a debris-blocked swollen river burst, swamping entire mountain villages in the county seat of Zhouqu and ripping homes from their foundations.
Tian Baozhong, the director of civil affairs in Gansu province, said the death toll now stood at 702, up from 337 on Monday.
Another survivor, Yang Zhukai, began the sad task of making simple coffins for the 10 to 20 relatives killed by the mudslide.
“These are all for relatives, for relatives killed by the mudslide. It was so unexpected — a huge landslide like this. There’s nothing left. We managed to escape with our lives. As far as relatives, 10 to 20 died from my village,” he told Associated Press Television News.
Throughout the area, bodies were seen wrapped in blankets and tied to sticks or placed on planks and left on the shattered streets for pickup.
The ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee met early Tuesday to discuss rescue and relief work, a move that will likely free up even more resources.
“It is now a critical time for disaster relief and rescue work. We must give the highest prominence to the protection of people’s lives and properties,” the committee said in a statement issued after the meeting.
The government said 1,042 were missing and about 45,000 were evacuated. It was not known how many of the missing were in danger or simply out of contact as workers rushed to restore communications in the area.
More rain is expected in the region over the next three days, the China Meteorological Administration said. Tents, blankets, food and water were all being rushed to the isolated area, creating traffic jams on the few roads in.
Flooding in China has killed about 1,800 people this year and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions.
In Pakistan, two weeks of flooding have killed 1,500. Amid the relentless rains, President Zardari — an unpopular figure to begin with — took off for a visit to France and Britain. His aides said he had to make the trip for diplomatic reasons, especially to Britain, whose Prime Minister David Cameron had recently accused Pakistan of exporting terrorism.
But the timing of trip struck a raw nerve among many who said Zardari should have stayed with his suffering people — even though the president, fearful of assassination, rarely makes public appearances in Pakistan anyway. The criticism was particularly harsh after reports that he’d visited his family’s elegant chateau in France.
The widespread crisis has overwhelmed Pakistan’s government and frustrated citizens who have complained about slow or nonexistent aid efforts.
The government estimates that 13.8 million people are affected by the floods. The figures include people who need short-term or long-term aid.
“The magnitude of the tragedy is so immense that it is hard to assess,” said Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during a visit to the central Pakistani city of Multan.
On Tuesday, people streamed out of Muzaffargarh, a major city of about 250,000 people in Punjab province, after authorities issued warnings using loudspeakers on mosques the previous evening. “There is chaos,” said Mohammed Amir, a police official in the city.
In North Korea, some 10,000 people sheltered in public buildings in the border city of Sinuiju near China because of flooding, the Red Cross said. Flash floods destroyed thousands of homes across the impoverished country, and the Amnok River recorded its highest water level in 15 years, the Red Cross said.
Associated Press writers Ashraf Khan in Sukkur, Pakistan, Aijaz Hussain in Indian-controlled Kashmir and Dan Y. Chung in Seoul contributed to this report.
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