Overnight thunderstorms caused new landslides and flooding that swept away more homes in a remote area of northwestern China on Thursday as the death toll rose to 1,117.
The National Weather Center forecast heavy rains in the coming days — up to 3.5 inches 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."
The overnight deluge triggered slides 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.
Dozens of rescuers were called out at midnight after earlier searching for hours in vain for survivors, army officer Zhang Guiquan was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
Zhang said some 40 soldiers braved potential mudslides to search a collapsed building where cries had been heard. "We will seize every chance to finding survivors, but it is also important to ensure the safety of rescuers," he 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 province's Zhouqu district were swallowed in waves of mud and rubble-strewn water.
Mudslide victim Luo Binghong had a sleepless night at a temporary shelter. "I sat all night listening to the sound of rain," she said, huddled with three relatives on a wet bed.
Hundreds of homes were completely buried in the weekend disaster while much of the county seat was submerged after the Bailong River jumped its banks.
A total of 630 people are now missing with hopes of rescue fading fast. However, two survivors were found Wednesday, including a a 50-year-old man pulled from knee-deep mud on the second floor of a hotel, Xinhua said. There were no details given on the second survivor.
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.
Crews had been using hand tools to pull out survivors but roads reopened Wednesday, allowing in heavy earthmoving 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, while infected injuries and a lack of sanitation increased the risk of typhoid, cholera and other diseases.
So far, there have been 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.
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.