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Death toll from dam break in northwest China rises

By NICK DRIVER

BEIJING -- Rescue workers have recovered 242 bodies with the death toll expected to swell higher from a dam break that inundated a rural township in northwest China, provincial officials said Monday.

The disaster struck when the Gouhou dam, which burst late Friday night and disgorged millions of gallons (liters) of water onto Gonghe township in northwest China's Qinghai province.

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'Rescue workers have, by the latest count, fished out 242 bodies from the floodwaters, but those numbers are only through Sunday night,' said a reporter from the state-run Qinghai Daily in a telephone interview.

'Sometime after 10:00 at night water conservancy officials at the dam heard a huge noise, saw sparks flying from the top of the dam, and immediately alerted town officials' the official Qinghai Daily said in a report seen in Beijing Monday.

Government officials were still tight-lipped about cause of the dam's failure, but they said they expected the number of deaths since many farmers in the path of the torrent had not yet been located.

At least 330 people were reported injured as of Monday morning, said officials reached by telephone from Beijing.

The flooding has also flooded at least 2,932 houses and damaged thousands more. Officials have not yet issued property damage estimates.

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Gonghe, a township of at least 20,000 mostly ethnic Tibetan inhabitants, lies on the Qiapuqia River, a small tributary of the Yellow River that eventually empties into the East China Sea. The township was at one time part of the state of Tibet.

'The Qiapuqia River has broken through its banks in all low-lying areas in the township,' said Wang Yi, an official in the Qinghai Province Foreign Affairs Office.

'Farmers have lost their land, the water has raced through the town itself, and one whole metalwork factory near the river bank was almost completely washed away,' he said.

Military and citizen rescue workers ferried in relief supplies by Saturday morning, officials said, and communications systems in the county were restored by Monday morning.

But the painstaking task of digging out more dead bodies and recovering belongings continued, and officials said they could not provide and estimate of the final death toll.

Officials had no explanation for the rupture, but the

State Council, China's cabinet, ordered a team to Qinghai to investigate the cause of the rupture. Results of that study are expected some time this week.

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