DONGHEKOU, China - Two rivers blocked by landslides threatened to flood towns shattered by China's massive earthquake, sending thousands of survivors fleeing yesterday in a region still staggering from the country's worst disaster in 30 years.
A mountain sheared off by the mighty tremor cut the Qingzhu river and swallowed the riverside village of Donghekou whole, entombing an unknown number of people in a huge mound of brown earth.
Compounding the horror for survivors, a lake rising behind the wall of debris threatens to break its banks and send torrents cascading into villages downstream.
Panicky residents streamed out of the entire county on the northern edge of the quake zone, spurred on by mobile-phone text messages sent en masse by local government officials warning that the water level was rising and people downstream were being evacuated.
In the town of Beichuan, 60 miles to the south, thousands fled as the reports circulated.
Rescue work resumed later in the day, and experts were monitoring the river above Beichuan, the People's Daily newspaper said on its Web site. The swift exodus underscored the jitters running through the disaster zone. A strong aftershock - the second in two days and measured by the U.S. Geological Survey at magnitude 5.7 - shook the area early today for 45 seconds, sending people running into the streets.
In all the devastation wrought by the quake, little looks as bleak as Donghekou. The road to the village ends in a tangled twist of metal and tar. In the small valley below, the village disappeared when the mountain collapsed. Locals said two other villages further upstream, Ciban and Kangle, suffered the same fate. The three villages were home to about 300 families.
Eerie and still, the remaining landscape has few signs of human life - a soiled green floral scarf, a rubber pipe, a log.
"Oh, God! I have lost everything," said Wen Xiaoying, 32, whose voice shook as she surveyed the valley below for the first time since she returned from far-off Guangdong province, where she worked.
She held up one hand as she listed the family members who died - her father, her mother, her sister and her brother-in-law - all buried in the mud before her.
Drizzling rain in the valley added to the gloom and to the fear of carloads of people who clogged the twisting mountain roads as they streamed out of the region.
The government's daily update added another few thousand bodies to the death toll as it continued climbing toward an expected final tally of at least 50,000. Cabinet spokesman Guo Weimin said 28,881 deaths had been confirmed.
The official Xinhua News Agency, citing regional officials, said more than 10,600 people were known to be still buried almost one week after the 7.9-magnitude quake hit in Sichuan province. The number of security forces helping victims rose to almost 150,000, and the government added cash payments to victims to its response.
The government will give $715 in compensation to each family that lost a member in the earthquake, China National Radio reported yesterday. The government decided it would also hand out a daily ration of food to survivors, the report said.
Almost a week after the quake, survivors were still being rescued. Rescuers pulled at least seven more survivors from collapsed buildings, the last a man saved after 128 hours. Both his legs had to be amputated. Another, 20-year-old highway worker Jiang Yuhang was pulled free shortly after his mother arrived from a neighboring province.