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Grim reality sets in for China's mudslide victims

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The death toll stands at 702
  • A village of 300 houses is completely wiped out
  • Heat, lack of drinking water, and threat of disease hamper rescue efforts
  • The mudslides were triggered by heavy rains that have tormented China all summer

Zhouqu, China(CNN) -- A day after a miraculous rescue, the sounds of cheers were replaced by crying families, the roar of bulldozers and dynamite blasting debris in Zhouqu, China, on Wednesday.

More than 24 hours after a man was pulled from the debris of his collapsed home, the grim reality is setting in that the death toll in the region is rising rapidly.

Recovery teams pulled another dead body from one destroyed building. Another group carried what appeared to be the remains of a young child through the streets.

The bodies are delivered to a makeshift morgue just outside the city. The roads in are also jammed with trucks carrying hundreds of coffins, along with the much needed supplies of water, food and medicine.

The official death toll stands at 702, with more than a thousand still reported missing after mudslides and flooding engulfed this ethnic-Tibetan city in northwest China Saturday night.

Gallery: China landslide
Video: Man pulled from rubble amid despair
Video: Parents look for kids in landslide
Video: View of landslide damage
Affected area

One village of 300 houses that local people said was home to more than 2,000 people was completely wiped out.

The mud is becoming a threat to rescue teams as well. Pockets of air remain just below the surface, threatening to swallow up anyone who steps through them.

The heat also hampered the rescue efforts, compounded by a severe lack of drinking water and the growing threat of disease.

Temperatures on the ground are hovering around 34-degrees Celsius (93-degrees Fahrenheit).

Teams of workers combed through the city spraying for insecticide and disinfectants. With so many dead bodies still believed to be decomposing in the heat and mud, fears of epidemic were on the rise.

State media reported that 7,000 tents were delivered to the city to help house the displaced. But a lack of flat and stable ground to pitch camps meant that most survivors faced the prospect of another day without shelter, while digging through debris in search of loved ones.

China's rainy season started with a vengeance in early May and has brought the worst flooding in a decade. More rain is forecast in the next few days.

Some of the rocks and debris from the mudslide landed in the middle of the Bailong River that snakes through the area. The river overflowed and inundated low-lying neighborhoods.

The government has been using explosives to break up the river debris, in an attempt to gradually release the water safely.

CNN's Emily Chang in Zhouqu, China, and Brian Walker in Atlanta contributed to this report.