About a thousand rescuers are searching through rubble to find 118 people missing after a landslide devastated their village in Sichuan province, southwestern China.
Dozens of homes were buried when the landslide hit Xinmo village in Mao County, Aba Prefecture Saturday morning.
The missing range from an 80-year-old man to a girl aged just two and a half, according to a list released by Aba Prefecture’s government, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Rescuers using life-detection equipment worked through the night to try to locate survivors, state news outlets reported Sunday, citing emergency officials. At least 15 bodies have been recovered.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for “all-out efforts” to save those who were buried. “Authorities must make maximum efforts to reduce casualties and prevent secondary disasters,” he said.
Authorities launched the highest level of disaster response. Relatives of the missing and those suffering losses in the disaster will be given appropriate care, Xi said.
Heavy rainfall is thought to be a possible cause of landslide, which happened about 6 a.m. local time Saturday, according to the provincial government’s Land and Resources Department.
A smaller second landslide caused huge rocks to fall onto the village, which made it more difficult for heavy machinery to get to the scene, police team leader Wang Yongbo told CCTV.
Couple and infant emerge alive
A family of three emerged alive from the rubble Saturday, the Mao County government said on its official Weibo page. The couple and their baby were being treated at the Mao County People’s Hospital, the post said.
Qiao Dashuai, whose infant is 1 month old, said he heard a loud sound and tried to close the door to his house against the wind, he told CCTV.
“I ran outside and felt this strong wind and saw water rushing towards us,” he said. “A rock fell into our living room. We slowly crawled out while holding our baby and escaped. People from a neighboring village gave the baby a bath, and looked for clothes for us and the baby. As we went to the crossroads, we saw an ambulance. The ambulance sent us to Mao County (Hospital).”
“Now we just have external wounds, and there aren’t any major problems. But my heart feels uncomfortable,” he said.
The landslide happened at a high part of a mountain and fell onto the village, blocking a 2-kilometer (1.25-mile) section of a river, Xinhua reported.
Landslide’s cause under review
Landslides’ causes are complicated and could include rain and unstable rock masses, an official from China’s Ministry of Land and Resources told CCTV.
“In this landslide, we feel that it is also because the whole mountain structure in Sichuan has become loosened following the earthquake on May 12, 2008. There is a drop in the ‘dynamic properties,’ and its stability has also decreased. The recent rainfall has triggered the landslide,” Tian Yanshan said.
“Earthquakes, mining activities — many man-made and natural activities can possibly trigger landslides. When the stability of the mountain structure has reached its maximum, any triggering factor could lead to landslides,” Tian said.
Mountainous Sichuan province has a history of landslides triggered by flooding and earthquakes. In 1933, 6,800 people died in landslides triggered by an earthquake and 2,500 more were killed when one of the landslides caused a dam to fail.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement through his spokesperson saying he is saddened about the deaths and devastation from the landslide.
“The secretary-general salutes the efforts of the national relief and recovery teams. The United Nations stands ready to support the authorities in any way it can if needed,” the statement reads.
“The secretary-general extends his condolences to the people and government of the People’s Republic of China and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.”