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New devastation in Tibet; death toll exceeds 700

August 12, 2010

ICT Report
International Campaign for Tibet
August 10, 2010

The death toll has risen to 702 after an
avalanche of mud and rock swept through Drugchu,
a Tibetan area of Gansu province in north-western
China, on Sunday (August 8). 1,042 people are
still missing and 42 seriously injured, the state
news agency, Xinhua, reported today (August 10).

The landslide demolished a large section of the
town of Drugchu (Chinese: Zhouqu) in the
south-east of Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan
Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu, and then poured
into a river, damming the waterway and causing it
to flood and submerge part of the town. The
Chinese military have used explosives to clear
the blockage and drain the town, and efforts to
dig people out of the rubble are ongoing.
According to a CNN report from the area, more
than 10,000 survivors are now living in tents
after their homes were obliterated.

Frantic efforts are being made to drain the
unstable lake created by the landslide amid fears
it could burst and swamp devastated areas where
rescue attempts are still being made.

The devastation in Drugchu is the second calamity
to hit Tibetans in recent months. In April, a 7.1
earthquake struck the Tibetan area of Yushu, Kham
in present-day Qinghai province and killed 2,698,
according to official estimates (See report:
'Hundreds killed in earthquake in Kyigundo,
eastern Tibet: emergency appeals launched,' ICT,
April 14, 2010,
http://savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/hundreds-killed-earthquake-kyigundo-eastern-tibet-emergency-appeals-launched)

A panorama of Drugchu here shows the town's
location below dry, deforested mountains. This
panorama, created from scanned images of
photographic negatives taken 15 years ago, shows
how complete deforestation was more than a decade
ago and how even the steepest slopes were
re-sculpted to create space for agriculture.
According to various reports, local people and
officials have warned for years that heavy
tree-felling and rapid development were making
the mountain area around Drugchu more vulnerable
to landslips. According to The Guardian, one
government report last year called the Bailong
river a "high-occurrence disaster zone for
landslides"
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/10/china-landslide-dam-burst).

In a vivid description of the landscape, Al
Jazeera's China correspondent, Melissa K Chan,
sent a twitter message from the area yesterday
reporting: "Naked mountains, no trees or shrubs.
Erosion. No wonder these mudslides happened in
Zhouqu, Gansu."
(http://twitter.com/melissakchan). Melissa Chan
also reported today: "Residents say the mudflow
came down and buried everything in about ten
minutes. Wasn't raining at time -- had no idea of
danger. Smell the stench of bodies and see and
hear wailing relatives mourning the dead. An awful way to die buried alive."

The state media reported that the landslide is
the worst to hit China in six decades. A tropical
storm is now heading for northern China, and is
expected to bring strong rains back to the disaster area.

The Tibetan Parliament in exile stated that
Tibetans in the area blamed environmental
mismanagement by the authorities in addition to
heavy rainfall. (www.tibet.net).

In their account of the area in the CD-Rom Tibet
Outside the TAR (TOTAR), Steve Marshall and
Susette Cooke write: "Viewed from above, the
county town of Drugchu might be a growth on the
surface of the landscape, clustered along the
edge of the Bailong River and climbing up into
side valleys below the dry sculpted hills. Above
these rise even higher bony mountain ridges,
where a few patches of conifers suggest a once
damper and more forested landscape. The town
consists of a Chinese-modern center with a few
outlying islands of high-rise construction,
connected by low-rise residential neighborhoods
merging into the surrounding villages, with
cultivation to the town edges. The oldest section
of Drugchu lies in the northeast." (The full
section available online at: http://www.tew.org/totar/totar.drugchu.html).

Official Chinese census statistics in 2000 for
Drugchu (Zhouqu) county showed a population that
was one third Tibetan and two-thirds Chinese.

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Director of Communications, ICT
Email: press@savetibet.org
Tel: +44 7947 138612
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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