China landslide: 15 dead, over 140 missing in Sinchaun province; rescue operations underway

Rescuers pulled 15 bodies from an avalanche of rocks that buried a mountain village in southwest China on Saturday as an increasingly bleak search for some 100 people carried into the night after a landslide smashed through their village in southwest China's Sichuan Province early on Saturday.

Only three survivors — a couple and their one-month-old baby — have been found so far after 62 homes in Xinmo village vanished under a mass of mud and rocks in Sichuan province.

Heavy rain caused the side of the mountain to collapse onto the riverside village in the early morning, according to authorities.

Qiao Dashi, the baby's father, said he had woken up after 5:00 am to change his crying son's diaper when he "heard a big noise coming from the back".

 China landslide: 15 dead, over 140 missing in Sinchaun province; rescue operations underway

Emergency personnel work at the site of a landslide in Maoxian County in China's Sichuan Province. AP

"The house shook," he told state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) from his hospital bed. "Rocks were in the living room. My wife and I climbed over, took the baby, and got out."

"I have superficial injuries. Overall, I'm okay. But psychologically, it's hard. The entire village, with dozens of families, was flattened," he said, with a bandage around his head.

The rescue operation's headquarters reported that 15 people had been found dead by the late evening, according to the official Xinhua news agency. 

Rescuers used ropes to move a massive rock while dozens of others, aided by dogs, searched the rubble for survivors, according to videos posted online by the government and CCTV.

Bulldozers and heavy diggers were also deployed to remove boulders, the images showed. Medics were seen treating a woman on a road. Hundreds of police, military and firefighters were taking part in the rescue.

As night fell, authorities shined lamps onto the rubble while rescuers wore lights on their helmets as they sifted through the rocks, aided by sniffer dogs, according to photos from the official Xinhua news agency.

During the day, rescuers and local residents used ropes to move a boulder while others lifted rocks with their bare hands, according to videos broadcast by the Maoxian government and CCTV.

Nearly 2,000 police, soldiers and civilians were taking part in the rescue.

A report from the state news agency Xinhua said that "part of a mountain" in the Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba had collapsed.

"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.

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 smashed into 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 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.

"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.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jun 24, 2017 22:13:04 IST