08/12/2010, 00.00
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Death toll rises in Zhouqu. Risk of more landslides

More than 1100 dead overwhelmed by the sea of rocks, dirt and mud that wiped out entire villages. The battle to save some lives. But the problem of ascertaining the causes of the disaster remains.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - There are 1,117 confirmed deaths from the landslide of rocks, dirt and mud that flooded three villages in County Zhouqu (Gansu), but at least 627 others are still "missing". Yesterday two other survivors were pulled free from rubble and searches continue, though with dwindling hopes.

The rain continues to fall, hampering the relief efforts of more than 7 thousand soldiers and medical teams. The National Meteorological Centre says that the risk of more landslides is "relatively large" in an area where the irrational exploitation of land and resources has resulted in a high risk of such "natural" disasters. Soldiers have used explosives to change the course of the Bailong river and create an unstable lake, whose waters may overflow and flood Zhouqu again. Meanwhile, authorities are quick to cite experts who say that there is "no evidence" that the area has been made unsafe by the creation of dams and the indiscriminate exploitation of land, however, without considering the real situation.

The landslide wiped out entire villages such as Yueyuancun, Dongjie, Henan Xincun, Beiguang, washing away homes and people, submerging roads and infrastructure. In Zhouqu there are over 1,000 houses destroyed and 3 thousand still flooded. Over 45 thousand people were evacuated in the county and now the question is where to permanently house the displaced. More than 7 thousand tents have been sent but the area is mountainous and not suitable to large camps, also because the rain shows no sign of stopping.

The climate is warm and the doctors are recommending that the bodies of the dead are cremated as soon as possible, although there are many Tibetan Buddhists in the area who traditionally bury corpses. Meanwhile, controversy has erupted over cremation: the locals complain that cremation can cost up to 1,000 Yuan, an excessive expense given that the government has so far pledged support for only 8 thousand Yuan per family.

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