BEIJING, Aug 13, 2010 (AFP) - Torrential rains on Friday battered several parts of western China, killing at least 33 people and heightening fears of a disease outbreak in a mudslide-ravaged town where more than 1,150 have died.
Health authorities said survivors of the deadly floods and landslides in Zhouqu, a remote town in the mountains of Gansu province in China's northwest, were facing a grim situation after clinics were damaged and vaccines ruined.
The bad weather showed no signs of letting up, with at least 33 people killed and 32 missing after floods and landslides in other parts of Gansu and neighbouring Sichuan province, as China battles its worst flooding in a decade.
In Zhouqu, 588 people are still missing after the weekend avalanche of mud and rocks, which levelled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 300 metres wide. The latest official death toll stood at 1,156 as of Friday.
"Rescue work is continuing, but the recent rains have caused some difficulties," Yan Jinxin, a spokeswoman for the Zhouqu county government, told AFP by telephone on Friday.
"The roads are muddy and hard to get through," she said, adding that more rain was expected in the afternoon.
An official with the Gannan prefectural government, who gave only his surname, Yu, said that more raincoats, gloves and medicines were needed in the mudslide zone.
But state television announced a piece of good news, saying water supplies had been restored to the county on Friday.
The risk of the spread of disease was nevertheless mounting, a health ministry official told the state Xinhua news agency.
"A large number of rescue and relief workers and survivors are now living there, increasing the risk of intestinal and respiratory infectious diseases," said the official.
Efforts to disinfect the area were difficult, and the decomposition of human and animal corpses buried under the mountains of sludge and debris in the town would aggravate the situation, the official said.
About 800 medical workers have been dispatched to the region following the mudslides, which state media described as the worst in 60 years in China.
Tonnes of garlic and Sichuan pepper, which in China are believed to guard against various ailments, have been sent to Zhouqu, state media said, citing local health authorities.
Troops were still using excavators and explosives to clear blockages in the Bailong river which cuts through Zhouqu.
There had been fears that a barrier lake created by the rubble could bring further chaos if it were to burst, but Zhang Guoxin, vice-director of the Gansu land resources department, said late Thursday it had been drained.
Zhang also said the risk of any of the dams along the Bailong bursting had been "basically eliminated", according to a statement on the provincial government's website.
Elsewhere in Gansu, 28 people were killed and 24 others left missing in the cities of Longnan and Tianshui, not far from Zhouqu, the civil affairs ministry said.
Local authorities were evacuating residents and sending tents, instant noodles and bottled water to those areas.
In Sichuan, five people were killed and eight missing in rural, mountainous Mianzhu, Xinhua said, citing a local official. Thousands were also evacuated in Shaanxi province following heavy rains.
The mudslides in Zhouqu are the latest in a string of weather-related disasters across China. More than 2,100 people were left dead or missing and 12 million evacuated nationwide before the Zhouqu incident.
The civil affairs ministry said Friday it had not calculated a new nationwide flood death toll.