BEIJING: Torrential rains on Friday battered several parts of western China, killing at least 19 people and heightening fears of a disease outbreak in a mudslide-ravaged town where more than 1,100 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 and water supplies were damaged.
The bad weather showed no signs of letting up, with at least 19 people killed and 20 missing after floods and landslides in other parts of Gansu and neighbouring Sichuan province, as China battles its worst flooding in a decade.
Six hundred people are still missing after the disaster in Zhouqu, which levelled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 300 metres wide. Officials put the death toll at 1,144 on Thursday.
"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 only gave his surname Yu, said that more raincoats, gloves and medicines were needed in the mudslide zone.
The risk of the spread of disease was 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.
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.
The new rains have increased the water level by up to three metres (10 feet) in the Bailong river, which cuts through Zhouqu, state media said.
Troops were still using excavators and explosives to clear blockages in the river and drain a barrier lake created by the rubble that could -- if it burst -- bring further destruction to areas already levelled by the torrent of mud.
Provincial authorities have evacuated areas near the lake, Xinhua said.
Elsewhere in Gansu, 14 people were killed and 20 left missing in the cities of Longnan and Tianshui, not far from Zhouqu, Xinhua reported.
Local authorities were evacuating residents and sending tents, instant noodles and bottled water to those areas
In neighbouring Sichuan province, five people were killed and 500 trapped in rural, mountainous Mianzhu, Xinhua said, citing a local government spokesman. 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.
BDST 1042 HRS, August 13, 2010