The death toll from China’s floods rose to more than 1,100 today, with another 600 people still missing.
Entire communities in Gansu province’s Zhouqu district were swallowed up when the debris-choked Bailong River burst its banks on Sunday, tearing buildings from their foundations.
Heavy rains continued to lash the area today and the hopes of finding more survivors were fading.
China's meteorological centre warned there was a "relatively large" chance of more landslides as the rain was expected to grow heavier, with up to 3½ inches forecast for Friday.
While torrential rains were the direct cause or the landslides, tree cutting that left the dry hills exposed and the weakening of cliff faces by a massive 2008 earthquake were seen as contributing factors.
Three villages comprising hundreds of households were entirely buried and much of the county seat left submerged.
“In some households, all the people have died,” making the counting of the dead more difficult, an official said today.
Engineers used explosives and excavators to drain an unstable lake on the Bailong upriver of Zhouqu, fearing more rain could cause a massive breach.
Others in protective suits sprayed disinfectant across the ground and over machinery, the smell of death heavy in the air. State media reported numerous cases of dysentery, while infected injuries, a lack of sanitation, clean drinking water and accumulating garbage increased the risk of typhoid, cholera and other diseases.
But the deputy director of the Health Ministry’s emergency office, Zhang Guoxin, said there have been no reports of an epidemic outbreak.
Rescuers have been largely reliant on hand tools, with heavy equipment either unable to traverse the difficult terrain or mired in mud up to several yards deep.
But roads reopened today allowing heavy earth-moving equipment and supplies to flow in.
At least 45,000 people have evacuated their homes, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs reported the delivery of 30,000 tents to the area, with thousands more on the way. Zhouqu has a population of 134,000, but it was not clear how many needed emergency shelter.
Throughout the area, bodies were seen wrapped in blankets and tied to sticks or placed on planks and left on the shattered streets for pickup.
China’s leaders have ordered teams to continue the search for survivors, and the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee met yesterday to discuss rescue and relief work.
“It is now a critical time ... we must give the highest prominence to the protection of people’s lives and properties,” it said afterwards.
Flooding in China has killed more than 2,000 people this year and caused tens of billions of pounds in damage across 28 provinces and regions.