Thousands flee China quake area over flood fears

Other News Materials 18 May 2008 10:39 (UTC +04:00)

Two rivers blocked by landslides threatened to flood towns shattered by China's massive earthquake, sending thousands of survivors fleeing Saturday in a region still staggering from the country's worst disaster in 30 years, the AP reported.

A mountain sheared off by the mighty tremor cut the Qingzhu river and swallowed the riverside village of Donghekou whole, entombing an unknown number of people inside a huge mound of brown earth.

Compounding the horror for survivors, a lake rising behind the wall of debris threatens to break its banks and send torrents cascading into villages downstream.

Pannicky residents streamed out of the entire county on the northern edge of the quake zone, spurred on by mobile phone text messages sent en masse by local government officials warning that the water level was rising and people downstream were being evacuated.

In the town of Beichuan, 60 miles to the south, thousands fled as the reports circulated.

Also on Sunday, a "slightly bruised" man was pulled out alive from a collapsed hospital in Beichuan after being trapped for 139 hours after the quake, a state news agency reported.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Tang Xiong was pulled to safety from the collapsed hospital in Beichuan in the northern part of Sichuan province.

It said Tang "was only slightly bruised and in his right senses" when he was found.

Xinhua also said a second man was rescued from a different building in Beichuan about eight hours before Tang. It said the survivor, Wu Jianping, had been taken to hospital. His condition was not known.

Rescue work had been resumed later in the day and experts were monitoring the river above Beichuan, the People's Daily newspaper said on its web site. The swift exodus underscored the jitters running through the disaster zone. A strong aftershock - the second in two days and measured by the U.S. Geological Survey at magnitude 5.7 - shook the area early Sunday for 45 seconds, causing people to run into the streets.

In all the devastation wrought by the quake, little looks as bleak as Donghekou.

The road to the village ends in a tangled twist of metal and tar. In the small valley below, the village itself has disappeared when the mountain collapsed. Locals said two other villages further upstream, Ciban and Kangle, had suffered the same fate. The three villages were home to about 300 families, locals said.

Eerie and still, the remaining landscape has few signs of human life - a soiled green floral scarf, a rubber pipe, a log.

"Oh God! I have lost everything," said Wen Xiaoying, 32, whose voice shook as she surveyed the valley below for the first time since returning from far-off Guangdong province where she worked.

She held up one hand as she ticked off the family members that died - her father, her mother, her sister and her brother-in-law - all of them buried somewhere in the muck before her.

"When I saw them the last time, we celebrated together," said Wen, a glimmer of a smile showing through as she remembered happier days. "I didn't expect it would be the last time I saw them."

Su Ciyao trudged over the bend in plastic slippers, carrying a plastic rice bag stuffed with salvaged clothes.

"My village is over there," the 44-year-old said, gesturing to the swollen earth behind him. Asked where his family was, he could only shake his head.

"Only me," he said, and then set off without a backward glance.