337 dead as landslide engulfs Chinese town after heavy rains

Rescuers lifted muddy bodies into trucks and aid convoys choked the road into a remote Chinese town where hundreds died and more than 1,100 were missing yesterday from landslides caused by heavy rain.

The count of dead from the disaster in Zhouqu, in a narrow valley in the north-western province of Gansu, jumped from 137 earlier yesterday to 337, according to a local official cited by the official Xinhua news agency.

It is the deadliest incident so far in the country's worst flooding in a decade. A debris-blocked swollen river burst, swamping entire mountain villages and ripping homes from their foundations. More rain is expected in the region over the next three days, the China Meteorological Administration said. Last night, clouds were building ominously over the mountains where the mud started flowing.

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"We were dumbfounded by the enormity of the flood situation when we got to the scene," said Chen Junfeng, a disinfection specialist whose army battalion was the first on the scene on Sunday.

Rescuers and locals with just shovels, hoes and rope spread over more than two miles of devastated land to burrow into homes encased in mud.

"There are around 20 of my family members under there," said Zou Jianglian, who had rushed back from a job in nearby Wuwei town to search for her mother, father, younger brother and other relatives lost since the disaster.

In the worst hit-village not a single structure was intact, although rescuers said they had not given up hope.

"There are probably eight people buried under this site," said a soldier, Luo Siyuan, who was helping dig for survivors in Zhouqu town. "They might not be able to survive after such a long time, but we will not give up on them."