At least six people were found dead and over 100 remained missing hours after a massive landslide buried a mountain village in southwest China on Saturday as rescuers frantically scoured through rocks for survivors.
A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after 62 homes in Xinmo village were swallowed by boulders when the side of a mountain collapsed, according to the Maoxian, or Mao county, government.
The Maoxian government said on its Weibo social media account that six bodies were recovered while 112 people remained missing. State media had earlier revised the number of missing people down from 141 to over 120.
The early morning landslide, which officials believe was triggered by heavy rains, blocked a two-kilometre (one-mile) stretch of river and 1.6 kilometre of road, according to state media.
Rescuers and local residents used ropes to move a boulder while dozens of others, aided by sniffer dogs, searched the rubble for survivors, according to videos posted online by the Maoxian government and state broadcaster CCTV.
Bulldozers and heavy diggers were also deployed to remove boulders, while villagers and soldiers lifted rocks with their bare hands.
— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) June 24, 2017
Rescuers brought spotlights to continue the search after sunset. Nearly 2,000 police, soldiers and civilians were taking part in the rescue.
Medics were seen treating a woman on a road.
No sign of the village could be seen in aerial footage, which showed a grim and grey rock-strewn landscape covering the area where it once existed by a river.
A fourth survivor had been spotted earlier in the day but officials did not say whether he was finally pulled out of the rubble hours later.
“It’s the biggest landslide in this area since the Wenchuan earthquake,” said Wang Yongbo, one of the officials in charge of rescue efforts, referring to the disaster that killed 87,000 people in 2008 in a town in Sichuan.
More rain forecast
Local police captain Chen Tiebo said the heavy rains that hit the region in recent days had triggered the landslide.
“There are several tonnes of rock” over the village, he told CCTV.
Landslide in Maoxian, Sichuan pic.twitter.com/YaKzC1ioDB
— Patrick Boehler 包蟠睿 (@mrbaopanrui) June 24, 2017
“It’s a seismic area here. There’s not a lot of vegetation,” Chen said.
Trees can help absorb excess rain and prevent landslides.
Tao Jian, director of the local weather service, told CCTV that the 2008 earthquake had “weakened the mountain” and that “a weak rain can provoke a geological catastrophe”.
President Xi Jinping called for rescuers to “spare no effort” in their search for survivors, according to CCTV.
China’s national weather observatory said more heavy rain was expected in parts of Sichuan and other southwestern provinces.
Landslides are a frequent danger in rural and mountainous parts of China, particularly at times of heavy rains.
At least 12 people were killed in January when a landslide crushed a hotel in central Hubei province.
In October landslides battered eastern China in the wake of torrential rains brought by Typhoon Megi, causing widespread damage and killing at least eight.
More than 70 were killed by a landslide in the southern commercial hub of Shenzhen in December 2015, caused by the improper storage of waste.
One of the deadliest landslides took place in 1991, when 216 were killed in southwestern Yunnan province.