Hurried cleanup begins before more rain falls

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-12 08:04
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ZHOUQU, Gansu - The stench of death loomed over this northwestern county on Wednesday, three days after the deadliest mudslide in decades buried almost 2,000 people in their homes.

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Heavy machines drove into the devastated county seat for a massive cleanup of sludge and debris to clear the way for potential floods as the weather bureau has warned of heavy rain and more possible geological disasters starting Thursday.

The rescuers, mostly troops of the People's Liberation Army and the armed police, are facing the dilemma of whether to speed up the cleanup and avoid further devastation, or to keep searching - a job they have been doing around the clock for three days - though they are expecting to find bodies, not survivors.

As the excavators drove over the debris of toppled homes, anguished residents wailed and watched, still hoping their loved ones would resurface.

"I know there's no chance for my mother to survive - our house has disappeared altogether," said Yang Yuzhong, 33. "But I need to find her and give her a decent burial."

Yang had made a stretcher out of a board and tree trunk, which, covered with a sheet and quilt, would also serve as his mother's coffin.

On Monday, rescuers retrieved the body of Yang's wife. "I escaped with my son in my arms, but my wife and my mother were not fast enough."

Wang Pingtao, 20, sat on the debris for two days waiting for his father, whose apartment was buried in mud and sludge.

"I have to see him, whether he's dead or alive," said Wang, who was brought up by his father after his mother died young. His father lived on the third floor of a four-story building. Only the roof of the building is visible in the debris.

"It's hard to stop searching and let them down," said Ren Tianwen, commander of a 700-strong armed police team. "So the cleanup is going on very slowly. We stop every time there's a chance of finding a body."

Ren's troops have found more than 100 bodies, all within a diameter of 1 km, in the county seat over the past 70 hours.

Before local roads were repaired and reopened at 2 am on Wednesday, they could only dig with hoes and shovels and lever up mammoth rocks with ropes.

Scores of soldiers worked for a day and a half to retrieve the body of a Tibetan girl at the request of her relatives, who traveled from a neighboring village to take her home.

With heavy machinery arriving on Wednesday, they are expected to accelerate the cleanup, or their own lives will be at risk.

China Daily - Xinhua