China mourns landslide victims as death toll touches 1,248
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Last Updated: Sunday, August 15, 2010, 22:00
Beijing: China marked a national day of mourning on Sunday for the victims of massive landslides a week earlier in remote northwest Gansu province, as the death toll touched 1,248 and 496 still missing.

Chinese flags across the country and at embassies and consulates overseas were lowered to half-staff while public entertainment was suspended to remember those who were killed in the landslide last weekend in Zhouqu county, where Tibetans account for about a third of the total population.

The death toll in the massive mudslides that engulfed Zhouqu county in northwest China's Gansu province has risen to 1,248, with 496 still missing.

Amid blaring of sirens and horns, Chinese leaders, students, workers and members of the public across the nation paused for three minutes from 10 a.m. to mourn for the dead, a week after the devastating mudslides.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and several other top leaders condoled the death of the mudslide victims.

Hu paid a silent tribute here to victims as thousands of soldiers continued rescue and disinfection efforts in Zhouqu county in the aftermath of the disaster on August 11.

Thousands of rescuers and villagers stood still on the debris of mudslide at Dongjie village in Zhouqu, bowing their heads in memory of the victims.

Sunday's issues of major newspapers including the People's Daily were printed in black and white to mark the mourning. Front pages of Chinese websites turned to black and white, in a show of mourning.

Mourning ceremonies were also held in Lanzhou, capital city of Gansu. A huge black banner -- 'Mourning in deep grief for deceased compatriots of the Zhouqu massive mudslide' -- hung in front of the mourners, with wreaths laying around.

"I only feel sad as I stand on the debris of our homes," said villager Zhang Xiujuan.

"Although my husband, my son and I survived, I lost more than 30 relatives in the mudslides," she said.

In Dongjie, two thirds of families with 848 villagers were buried when the mudslides struck. And 368 villagers have died in the disaster, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Some survivors sat silently on the debris, still holding out hope that the bodies of their relatives could be found.

The Zhouqu County sits in the steep valley of the Bailong River, a tributary of the Jialing River, which meets the mighty Yangtze River in Chongqing, and is hemmed in by Rocky Mountains on both sides.

At the nearby Heiyu and Labrang monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism, monks and believers attended a religious ritual to mourn for the dead.

At the historic Tiananmen Square in downtown Beijing, thousands of people watched the Chinese flag being hoisted to full height and then lowered to half-mast.

Today is the seventh day since the mudslide occurred and according to some Chinese traditions, the seventh day after a death marks the height of the mourning period.

Large-scale national displays of mourning are rare in China.

It was the third time in two years that China has observed national mourning for a disaster. It observed a three-day national mourning period after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed 90,000 people, and a one-day national mourning after the Yushu quake on April 14 this year that killed 2,698 people.

Meanwhile floods and landslides have left 11 people dead and 60 missing over the past three days in southwest China's Sichuan province, according to the provincial civil affairs department.

Heavy rains began pounding many places in Sichuan on Thursday. Almost 500,000 people were affected and 20,000 had been evacuated by Saturday. About 24,000 homes had been damaged and 17,000 hectares of crops had been affected. Direct economic losses stood at about 1 billion yuan (USD 147 million).

In Gansu, new floods and landslides killed 33 people and left 63 missing in the city of Longnan close to Zhouqu, Xinhua said.

At least 38 people were reported missing after landslides yesterday destroyed hospital buildings in Wenchuan county, the epicentre of an earthquake in May 2008 that left nearly 87,000 dead or missing, Xinhua report said earlier.

Soldiers were still struggling to remove debris from the swollen Bailong River that flows through Zhouqu to prevent more flooding. One-third of the town is still under water following the disaster.

Authorities warned of heavy rains and further flash floods, Xinhua reported.


First Published: Sunday, August 15, 2010, 22:00

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