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Chinese soldiers and rescue workers were searching for survivors Tuesday after a landslide swept through a community in northwestern China.

The massive landslide ripped through the remote town of Zhouqu on Sunday, killing at least 700 people and leaving more than 1,000 missing.

"The number of soldiers working on this rescue effort is up to 7,000 now," said Peter Foster, a reporter with the Daily Telegraph. 

"They are literally like ants, swarming over this town which was split in two on Sunday night by a river of mud."

Foster said many of the rescue workers were digging through the wall of mud and rubble by hand, as officials struggled to get heavy equipment into the area.

There was some success: rescuers discovered a 52-year-old who had been trapped for more than 50 hours inside a levelled apartment building. The man, Liu Ma Shindan, was in weak condition but breathing normally.

Foster said he has not heard of any other rescues Tuesday, noting that authorities have cautioned people not to expect "too many more miracles in the days ahead."

The disaster in China's Gansu province struck when a debris-blocked swollen river burst, swamping entire mountain villages in the county seat of Zhouqu and ripping homes from their foundations.

'There's nothing left. We managed to escape with our lives.' —Yang Zhukai, flood survivor

Yang Zhukai survived the landslide and the flooding, but was left with the task of making simple coffins for the 10 to 20 relatives killed by the mudslide.

"It was so unexpected — a huge landslide like this," Yang said. "There's nothing left. We managed to escape with our lives."

Resources to be freed up

The ruling Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee met early Tuesday to discuss rescue and relief work, a move that will likely free up even more resources.


Rescuers use a boat to bring locals to a safer area on a flooded street in landslide-hit Zhouqu County of Gannan prefecture, Gansu province on Tuesday. ((Aly Song/Reuters))

"It is now a critical time for disaster relief and rescue work," the committee said in a statement issued after the meeting. "We must give the highest prominence to the protection of people's lives and properties."

Government officials said 1,042 people were missing and about 45,000 evacuated. It was not known how many of the missing were in danger or simply out of contact as workers rushed to restore communications in the area.

More rain is expected to fall in the region over the next three days, Chinese forecasters said.

"Even as I speak, the river is high enough that only the tops of streetlamps are poking out of the raised waters," Foster said Tuesday. He said engineers and emergency workers are trying to clear as much debris as possible ahead of the rains.

More than 1,800 people have died in flooding in China this year.

With files from The Associated Press