China holds national day of mourning for landslide dead; flags lowered, ceremony on state TV

BEIJING (AP) — Cinemas closed and coal miners stopped work as China observed a day of mourning Sunday for more than 1,200 victims of a mudslide a week earlier in a northwestern town, while authorities rushed to protect survivors from more flooding.

In a televised memorial service, some 5,000 rescue workers and Zhouqu residents bowed their heads in silence as a siren wailed at 10 a.m. State TV showed coal miners in northern China and railway workers with their heads bowed in mourning.

Cinemas and karaoke parlors were ordered to close and concerts were canceled. The giant Chinese flag on Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing and flags at government offices were lowered to half-staff. Websites switched to all-black formats.

At least 1,239 people were killed as waves of mud and rock triggered by heavy summer rains crashed through Zhouqu in Gansu province on Aug. 8, knocking down houses and other buildings. The government says another 505 people are still missing.

With more rain forecast, soldiers were working around the clock to clear debris from the swollen Bailong River that flows through Zhouqu and prevent more flooding. One-third of the town is still under water following the disaster. The Ministry of Civil Affairs said at least 45,000 people were evacuated.

State media reported cases of dysentery, but there were no reports of an epidemic. Authorities brought in mobile water purification units that can provide clean water for up to 30,000 people, the government's China News Service reported.

Sunday was the third time in two years that China has observed national mourning for a disaster. The government ordered a three-day observance after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province that killed nearly 90,000 people and one day following April's quake in Yushu in Qinghai that killed 2,698 people.

Also Saturday, 38 people were missing after rains triggered landslides in Sichuan province in the southwest, the government's Xinhua News Service said.

Floods destroyed prefabricated buildings used as hospital facilities in Wenchuan county, the center of 2008's magnitude 7.9 earthquake.

China regularly suffers devastating summer floods, but this year has been unusually severe.

Storms killed at least 1,500 people nationwide before the Zhouqu landslide and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.