More than 80 people are dead and over 2 000 are missing after landslides triggered by heavy rain swept away homes and destroyed roads and bridges in north-western China, state media said on Sunday.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is travelling to the devastated region in Gansu province where more than 70 people have also been injured and 20 000 evacuated, as deep rivers of sludge hamper rescue efforts, reports said.
Authorities have sent nearly 3 000 soldiers and about 100 medics to help in search and rescue efforts after the landslides in the mainly Tibetan region began late Saturday, reports said.
At least 50 000 people have been affected by floods which have submerged half of Zhouqu county, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing Mao Shengwu, the head of the affected Gannan prefecture.
The landslides swept mud, houses and other debris into a river flowing through the county, blocking the waterway and triggering flooding, the government said.
Rescuers were searching for missing people, Xinhua said, without providing further details.
The torrential rain that started at about 10pm (2pm GMT) on Saturday had now stopped, reports said.
“The water of the Bailong River flowed into the county seat and many people were trapped,” a senior county official was quoted as saying.
“Now the sludge has become the biggest problem to rescue operations. It’s too thick to walk or drive through.”
Some streets were covered with sludge as deep as one metre, Xinhua said.
Many houses were buried in the landslides which destroyed roads and bridges while telecommunications, water and electricity have been cut in parts of the region, reports said.
“Someone said the fifth floor of my residential building has been submerged. People are busy looking for their family members and friends,” local resident Li Tiankui was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
According to government figures issued before the latest disaster, the number of people killed or missing in devastating floods across China this year had risen to more than 2 100.
China’s civil affairs ministry said Friday 1 454 people had died, another 669 were still missing and more than 12-million had been evacuated from their homes.
Large swathes of China have been hit by summer deluges that have triggered the worst floods in a decade, caused countless deadly landslides and swollen many large rivers to dangerous levels.
According to the ministry, 1,4-million homes have been destroyed by the floods that have also caused 275-billion yuan ($41-billion) in direct economic losses.
The figures cover the entire year so far and it is unclear specifically how many people have died or gone missing in the summer floods.
China’s north-east is the worst-hit area, with entire towns flooded and rivers bordering North Korea swollen to critical levels, prompting fears of deluges in both countries.
China’s national meteorological centre said on Saturday that large swathes of the nation would see rain in the next 24 hours, although it added the rainfall would be light in most areas.
But it warned that the north-east would once again be hit by torrential downpours from Sunday. – AFP