China landslide toll rises to 702; Pakistanis flee
Race against time: Rescue workers search for victims after a mudslide swept into the town of Zhouqu in Gannan prefecture of northwestern China's Gansu province, Wednesday. AP/Ng Han Guan
The death toll from landslides in northwestern China more than doubled to 702, as rescue crews in three Asian countries struggled to reach survivors from flooding that has imperiled millions.
Rescuers digging by hand through mud Tuesday found a 52-year-old man trapped for more than 50 hours inside a leveled apartment building in the remote town of Zhouqu, where more than 1,000 other people were still listed as missing. Rescuers with sniffer dogs discovered the man, Liu Ma Shindan, who was weak but breathing normally.
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari returned home to a storm of criticism after visiting Europe as his country was gripped by the worst floods in its history. His arrival Tuesday came as thousands of people fled a major city in central Pakistan as river threatened to submerge the area.
Rescuers in the desert mountainsides in Indian-controlled Kashmir recovered more bodies, with the death toll rising to 165 from flash floods. Thousands of army and paramilitary soldiers continued clearing roads and removing debris of hundreds of homes flattened in th Ladakh region.
About 200 remained missing around Ladakh, said Lt. Col. J.S. Brar, an army spokesman.
The disaster in China's Gansu province was caused when a debris-blocked swollen river burst, swamping entire mountain villages. Tian Baozhong, the director of civil affairs in Gansu province, said the death toll now stood at 702.
Another survivor, Yang Zhukai, began the sad task of making simple coffins for the 10 to 20 relatives killed by the mudslide.
"These are all for relatives, for relatives killed by the mudslide ... There's nothing left. We managed to escape with our lives," he told Associated Press Television News.
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.
The ruling Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee met Tuesday 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 in a statement.
The government said 1,042 were missing and about 45,000 were evacuated. It was not known how many of the missing were in danger or simply out of contact as workers rushed to restore communications.
More rain is expected in the region in coming days, the China Meteorological Administration said. Tents, blankets, food and water were all being rushed to the isolated area.
Flooding in China has killed about 1,800 people this year and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions.
In hard-hit Pakistan, people streamed out of Muzaffargarh, a major city of about 250,000 people in Punjab province, after authorities issued warnings using loudspeakers on mosques. "There is chaos," said Mohammed Amir, a police official in the city.
Two weeks of flooding have killed 1,500. The widespread crisis has overwhelmed Pakistan's government and frustrated citizens who have complained about slow or nonexistent aid efforts.
Pakistan estimates 13.8 million people are affected by the floods and will need short-term aid or long-term assistance to recover.
"The magnitude of the tragedy is so immense that it is hard to assess," said Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during a visit to the central Pakistani city of Multan.
In New York, United Nations spokesman Martin Nesirky said U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes would launch an appeal Wednesday for several hundred million dollars to aid victims.
He said U.N. relief agencies were concentrating on six million Pakistani residents with the priority to provide emergency shelter for about one-third.