China declares national day of mourning for flood victims

By John M. Glionna

     BEIJING _ Chinese officials declared Sunday a national day of mourning to remember the more than 1,200 people killed by recent flooding that still held parts of the country in its grip.

     More rain was forecast for remote Gansu province, where the swollen Bailong River was expected to once again overflow its banks, causing new trauma for survivors of the punishing deluge that first struck Aug. 7.

     Reports of the continued death and devastation have hit China hard, provoking an outpouring of sympathy for the stricken. The official New China News Agency on Saturday continued its run of heart-wrenching photographs, including rescuers pulling bodies from the mud, boats passing the roofs of submerged houses and a man clutching strands of his dead daughter’s hair.

     As late as Thursday, residents in the north-central region reported hearing cries for help from buildings in areas overwhelmed by mudslides, the news agency reported. “We will seize every chance to find survivors, but it is also important to ensure the safety of rescuers,” one official said.

     The thick mud was impeding efforts to remove the dead in hardest-hit Zhouqu county, where scores of multistory buildings were still threatened with collapse, officials said. Many bodies, shrouded in blankets, were left on streets alongside debris from the disaster.

     Officials reported numerous cases of dysentery and stressed the importance of avoiding tainted water in flooded areas. Soldiers were in the area to spread health tips in an effort to prevent an epidemic, officials said.

     This year has seen the worst floods nationwide in a decade. Deluges have killed more than 2,000 people since the beginning of the year.

     Officials in Beijing said that flags nationwide and at Chinese embassies and consulates would be flown at half-staff Sunday to honor the dead.