Rescuers have been battling to help people affected by mudslides brought about by intense rain in Yingxiu, Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, but officials and locals said on Tuesday that the situation on the ground still depends on the weather and whether they get more rain.
Part of a bridge in Yingxiu, Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, remains while another section has been washed out by mudslides triggered by torrential rain. Many people were trapped on the bridge on Monday. [Xinhua]
The affected area surrounds one of the towns that was hardest hit by the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in 2008.
Statistics show Yingxiu has received 384.2 millimeters of rain since June 30, with much of it having fallen since Sunday.
Mudslides into the Yuzixi River, which flows through Yingxiu, raised the riverbed by between 3 and 5 meters and continuing rain has brought down more and more slides of mud and rock.
So far, no casualties have been reported. However, locals are worried that the river will become blocked and flood the town, according to Wenchuan county's meteorological bureau.
Downstream, 30 meters of riverbank has been washed away.
A team of more than 300 people arrived on Monday with at least 60 pieces of heavy equipment and began to remove debris from the river and repair broken riverbanks with huge rocks wrapped in steel nets. They said on Tuesday the reconstruction of the riverbanks was almost complete.
Zhang Tongrong, the county chief of Wenchuan, told China Daily many of the problems were under control on Tuesday and said the situation was improving.
However, lingering heavy rain has hampered the work.
Wang Qiang, program manager at Qitian Construction Company, said heavy rain on Monday added more debris to the riverbed and increased the water volume, making it impossible for some machines to work.
He said the situation improved on Tuesday and predicted work could be over in three days if the weather holds out.
People living close to the river have been packed and ready for a possible evacuation to an emergency shelter.
Yun Yuming, 39, said it will hurt him and his family if they lose their house again after it was destroyed in the 2008 earthquake.
Wang Lei, manager of Yingxiu-Wenchuan Highway Administration Company, said the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in 2008 was likely responsible for the recent mudslides.
"The earthquake in 2008 destroyed the integrity of the surface, making it much easier for the rain to flush away earth and rocks," Wang said.
His view was repeated by Ma Dongtao, an expert on earthquake aftermath prevention at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Ma predicted that the mudslides and landslides in Wenchuan are just the beginning of a phase that could last for 100 years.
"Landslide prevention work will be the most important issue in dealing with the aftermath," the Shanghai Morning Post quoted Ma as saying.
It was not the first time that Wenchuan has been hit by mudslides and floods. In August last year, the town suffered 16 mudslides, which forced the Minjiang River to divert and flooded Yingxiu, leaving 41 people missing and 30,000 others affected.
Highway cut off
Meanwhile, National Highway 213 between Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, and Wenchuan was severed for a second time in three days because of mudslides. At least four sections of the highway have been obstructed by the slides.
The Minjiang River changed its course on Sunday and cut through the highway and several hundred meters of road was washed away.
The problems trapped more than 7,000 vehicles and 30,000 people and led to more than 6,000 vehicles retracing their routes and getting out of the area.
Restoration work on the road could take 10 days, according to the local traffic authority.
Falling mud and rocks from the mountains severed the link between Wenchuan and the outside world on July 1 and construction workers rushed to reopen the highway the next day.
National Highway 213, which links Sichuan with the provinces of Gansu to the north and Yunnan to the south, was referred to as a "lifeline" by rescue workers after the devastating 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.