Rescue teams search for survivors

More than 1,100 people are now known to have died in devastating landslides in northwestern China.

Thousands of soldiers and rescuers continue to comb through the mountains of mud that buried a remote area in the province of Gansu at the weekend.

With only two survivors found in Zhouqu today, hopes of finding any of the 600 still missing are fading.

Rescuers racing against a potential new deluge also hurried to drain an unstable lake formed by the mudslides.

With days of heavy rains forecast, sparked in part by Typhoon Dianmu, troops are using excavators and explosives to clear debris blocking the Bailong river that runs through Zhouqu.

The rubble has created a lake that, if it were to burst, could bring further destruction to areas already levelled by the avalanche of sludge and rocks, though officials insist the risk has been minimised.

'The danger of the barrier lake collapsing suddenly has been basically eliminated,' the vice-minister of water resources, Jiao Yong, told a press conference in Beijing.

Provincial authorities have nevertheless evacuated areas near the lake.

Rescuers plucked a 50-year-old man from a flooded hotel in the barrier lake today, and Xinhua later said another survivor had been found buried in debris.

Authorities are now focusing on averting further devastation in the form of new floods and possible disease outbreaks.

Hundreds of medical workers have been sent to the disaster zone along with experts in epidemic prevention amid fears of an outbreak of water-borne disease.

Loudspeakers in town broadcast messages instructing residents how to protect themselves from disease.

Tens of thousands of people are without adequate food and drinking water, as many roads leading to the area were damaged, leaving much-needed supplies stuck on trucks.

The mudslides are the latest in a string of weather-related disasters, as China battles its worst flooding in a decade.

More than 2,100 people were left dead or missing and 12m evacuated before the Gansu tragedy.

The mudslides levelled an area 5km long and 300 metres wide, Xinhua said.

Floodwaters up to three storeys high have submerged half the county, where one-third of the population is Tibetan.

The landslides swept homes, cars and debris into the Bailong, choking off the waterway and triggering flooding in the mountainous area.

In Zhouqu town, workers tried to clear streets buried in thick mud and debris from more than 300 destroyed homes.

Officials defended their efforts to warn residents of impending natural disasters, saying Zhouqu was particularly susceptible.

'The area has been one of the key regions monitored by the local government,' Guan Fengjun, a senior water resources ministry official, said.