China mourns landslide victims as death toll touches 1,248

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.

PTI



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

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