Rain triggers fresh China landslides


Torrential rain has brought landslides to more areas in China, as relief teams in devastated Zhouqu county battle against the bad weather.

Teams are continuing to recover bodies in the remote region in Gansu province, in the wake of Saturday's landslides that left 1,700 people dead or missing.

Elsewhere in Gansu 24 people were killed in landslides, and five people died in Sichuan province to the south.

More rain is forecast for the area in the next few days.

Officials say 1,144 people are now known to have died in Zhouqu when mud and rock-flows crushed or buried hundreds of buildings.

The BBC's Chris Hogg, who visited the county, says questions are now being asked about whether the disaster could have been prevented.

Questions asked

Heavy rain has been sweeping across central and western China for several days.

The deluges triggered fresh landslides in Longnan city and Tianshui county, near Zhouqu, leaving 24 people dead. The same number were missing, Xinhua news agency said.

Mudslides in Mianzhu county in Sichuan province killed five more people and left 500 trapped in rural areas, Xinhua also reported.

Further north in Zhouqu, questioning has begun over what could have caused the landslide to be so devastating, even as relief work continues.

Our correspondent says people are asking if heavy logging in the area and poor urban planning are to blame for the disaster.

He says reports in the Chinese media say studies carried out by researchers in the 1970s and again in the 1990s concluded the area was vulnerable to natural disasters.

Logging - both legal and illegal - made the problem worse.

The area is extremely poor. Logging was banned there 12 years ago but people continued to cut down and sell trees on the mountainside to make a living.

A recent drought and the Sichuan earthquake two years ago may have weakened the rock face above the town, but our correspondent says protective measures and warning systems could have saved lives.

The government has promised to help people rebuild homes and buildings in the area but analysts are questioning if this is wise.

"The tragedy in Zhouqu is a reflection of the challenges and risks economic growth brings to poor regions," said Li Yan, climate change and energy campaigner for Greenpeace China.

"Local governments are under pressure to alleviate poverty and develop the economy - in that process, there is environmental damage and degradation," he told AFP.

Whatever the cause, survivors of the Gansu landslide are now huddled in tents, which are drenched through, pitched on unstable slopes.

Fresh mudslides have blocked a road being used to bring in supplies, and emergency shelters have been flooded.

Forecasters predict heavier downpours for the next two days.