MINXIAN, Gansu - The death toll had risen to 37 and 19 others remained missing as of 6 pm Friday after hail and torrential rains battered a mountainous county in Northwest China, authorities said late Friday.
As of 6 pm, the storms had affected 358,000 people in Minxian county, Gansu province, forcing the evacuation of nearly 30,000 local residents. Another 40 people had been hospitalized. Roads were blocked, houses collapsed, and farmland destroyed by the extreme weather, according to Minxian county civil affairs bureau.
China's National Disaster Reduction Committee and the Civil Affairs Ministry raised the level of emergency response from level 4 to level 3 on Friday afternoon.
A disaster relief team led by Sun Shaocheng, deputy minister of civil affairs and consisted of officials from nine ministries is heading to the disaster-hit area.
About 2,000 officials, as well as 800 soldiers and militiamen, have trudged through mud and water into storm-battered areas to rescue trapped villagers.
Gansu provincial Red Cross said it was sending 1,000 quilts and 1,000 coats to Minxian to help with disaster relief efforts. The provincial finance bureau, meanwhile, has earmarked 2 million yuan ($317,460) to repair damaged water control facilities.
Food and water had been allocated to the evacuated residents by local authorities.
Minxian's civil affairs bureau said the stormy weather lasted just from 5 to 6 pm, but wreaked havoc in all of the county's 18 townships.
In the worst-hit areas, precipitation measured nearly 70 mm.
Hail and torrential rain cut power in six townships, damaged several homes, hospitals and schools, disrupted traffic on two interprovincial highways and destroyed over 7,000 hectares of crops, county authorities said.
Minxian is a mountainous county in the city of Dingxi with a population of 450,000. It is located 150 km from Zhouqu county, where a rain-triggered mudslide killed more than 1,500 people in August 2010.
Thursday's rains also triggered floods in two other counties in Dingxi, as well as parts of the city of Longnan and the Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture. No deaths have been reported in those areas.
The national flood control and drought relief headquarters on Friday issued fresh warnings to northwestern provinces, urging them to step up weather monitoring and flood prevention efforts.
The provincial observatory said more rains were likely from late Friday to Sunday in Minxian.