Overnight thunderstorms brought new misery to a remote area of northwestern China on Thursday as the death toll from weekend flooding and massive landslides rose to 1,117.
The rains triggered new mudslides, leaving five more missing, and another swollen river threatened to overflow.
The National Weather Center forecast heavy rains in the coming days — up to nine centimetres of precipitation was expected in the already saturated region on Friday — and said the threat of additional landslides along the Bailong River was "relatively large."
An overnight deluge triggered more mudslides that swept away six houses in Xizangba village, blocked a river near Libazi village, and obstructed a key road used to ferry relief goods, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing local authorities in Gansu province.
Another mudslide in nearby Tianshui city buried seven people, though two were quickly rescued, Xinhua said. In another part of Gansu, 250,000 residents of Chengxian county faced the threat of flooding as waters rose in the Donghe River, local officials said.
Tents set up as emergency shelters were flooded, and traumatized victims said the storms were a frightening reminder of the deluge that brought on Sunday's disaster in which three villages in Gansu's Zhouqu district were swallowed in waves of mud and rubble-strewn water. Hundreds of homes were completely buried.
Xinhua reported that 630 people were missing, with hopes for their rescue fading fast. However, two survivors were found Wednesday, including a 50-year-old man pulled from knee-deep mud on the second floor of a hotel, Xinhua said. No details were given on the second survivor.
Local residents said they could still hear cries for help coming from collapsed buildings overnight and some 40 soldiers were sent to search the area, army officer Zhang Guiquan told Xinhua. "We will seize every chance to find survivors, but it is also important to ensure the safety of rescuers," he said.
Zhang Weixing, a Ministry of Civil Affairs official, said the scale of the disaster made counting the dead all the more difficult.
"In some households, all the people have died," Zhang told a news conference Wednesday.
Bodies were wrapped in blankets and tied to sticks or placed on planks and left on the debris-strewn streets for pickup.
Lack of drinking water a key concern
Crews had been using hand tools to pull out survivors but roads reopened Wednesday, allowing in heavy earth-moving equipment and supplies.
Clean drinking water was a primary concern, with most local sources knocked out or too polluted to use. State media reported numerous cases of dysentery, but there were no reports of an epidemic outbreak.
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 wasn't clear how many needed emergency shelter.
The Gansu provincial government announced subsidies for families whose homes were destroyed and promised to help rebuild all houses by next June.
Flooding in China has killed more than 2,000 people this year and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions.