China declares day of mourning after landslide

China declared a national day of mourning for victims of a massive landslide in the remote northwest, as authorities today stressed the importance of hygiene and safety for the thousands now living in temporary shelters.

Chinese flags across the country and at embassies and consulates overseas will be lowered to half-staff on Sunday to commemorate the 1,239 killed in the landslide last weekend, the central government said on its website Saturday.

"Public entertainment activities" should also be suspended for the day. The announcement did not elaborate, but mourning periods in the past have banned things such as online video games and lighthearted television programs and forced cinemas, theaters and nightclubs to suspend business.

Rainstorms forecast for the coming days remained a threat to Zhouqu, where soldiers worked around the clock to remove debris from the swollen Bailong River that runs through the center of town. More rain could cause the river to overflow and further inundate the town that is already one-third underwater after being swallowed in waves of mud and rubble-strewn water a week ago.

Authorities said 505 people remain missing, with the last reported rescues made Wednesday.

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, but there were no reports of an epidemic outbreak.

Authorities were working to disinfect drinking water supplies and have brought in mobile water purification units that can provide clean water for up to 30,000 people, China News Service reported.

It was not clear how many people were in emergency shelter. The Ministry of Civil Affairs said at least 45,000 people evacuated their homes, while the local government said there were 20,227 people who were affected by the landslide.

Also Saturday, 38 people were missing after heavy rains triggered new landslides in neighboring Sichuan province, Xinhua said. Floods destroyed the prefabricated buildings used as hospital facilities in Wenchuan county, which was devastated by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in 2008.

Flooding and rains had killed about 1,500 people across China this year even before the landslide. The country experiences seasonal flooding every summer but storms this year were especially severe, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions.