1,100 missing in China as Asian flood misery rises

The Associated Press Published: August 9, 2010
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ZHOUQU, China (AP) — Rescuers lifted muddy bodies into trucks, and aid convoys choked the road into the remote Chinese town where hundreds died and more than 1,100 were missing Monday from landslides caused by heavy rain that has flooded swaths of Asia and spread misery to millions.

In Pakistan, the United Nations said the government's estimate of 13.8 million people affected by the country's worst-ever floods exceeded the combined total of three recent megadisasters — the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Rescuers in mountainous Indian-controlled Kashmir raced to rescue dozens of stranded foreign trekkers and find 500 people still missing in flash floods that have killed 140.

In China, the death toll jumped to 337 late Monday after Sunday's landslides in the northwestern province of Gansu — the deadliest incident so far in the country's worst flooding in a decade. A debris-blocked swollen river burst, swamping entire mountain villages in the county seat of Zhouqu and ripping homes from their foundations.

"There were some, but very few, survivors. Most of them are dead, crushed into the earth," said survivor Guo Wentao. Associated Press Television News showed the bodies of his younger brother and sister, wrapped in quilts, being carried away on a stretcher as crying relatives followed.

The government said 1,148 were missing Monday night. 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, where one-third of residents are ethnic Tibetan.

More rain is expected in the region over the next three days, the China Meteorological Administration said. On Monday evening, clouds were building ominously over the mountains where the mud started flowing.

"We were dumbfounded by the enormity of the flood situation when we got to the scene," said Chen Junfeng, a disinfection specialist whose army battalion was the first on the scene Sunday.

Photos showed wrapped bodies tied to sticks or placed on planks and left on the shattered streets for pickup. APTN footage showed workers lifting an empty coffin. In many parts of rural China, coffins are bought as insurance for old age.

"We're saving you!" Premier Wen Jiabao shouted into the wreckage, as shown on state broadcaster China Central Television. "Is a child still down there? Take good care of the child!"

Hoping to prevent further disasters, demolitions experts set off charges to clear debris blocking the Bailong River upstream from the ravaged Zhouqu. The blockage had formed a 2-mile (3-kilometer)-long artificial lake on the river that overflowed before dawn Sunday, sending deadly torrents crashing down onto the town.

Flooding in China has killed more than 1,100 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.

"It looks like the number of people affected in this crisis is higher than the Haiti earthquake, the tsunami or the Pakistan earthquake, and if the toll is as high as the one given by the government, it's higher than the three of them combined," Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Associated Press.

The U.N. estimates that 13.8 million people have been affected by the Pakistan flooding — over 2 million more than the other disasters combined. The figures include people who need short-term or long-term aid.