BEIJING: Chinese rescuers scoured through rocks on Saturday in a frantic search for more than 140 people feared buried after a landslide smashed through a mountain village in southwest Sichuan province.
A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after 46 homes in the village of Xinmo were swallowed by huge boulders when the side of a mountain collapsed, according to the local Maoxian, or Mao county, government.
A fourth survivor was found but rescuers were still trying to get to him.
At least 141 people were missing, the People’s Daily said, citing a Maoxian government spokesman hours after the 6 a.m. landslide.
The landslide blocked a two-kilometer stretch of river and a 1.6-kilometer road.
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 Maoxian government and state broadcaster 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.
Wang Yongbo, one of the officials in charge of rescue efforts, said the vital signs of one of the survivors “are weak.”
“It’s the biggest landslide in this area since the Wenchuan earthquake,” he said, referring to the disaster that killed 87,000 people in 2008 in a town in Sichuan.
Local police captain Chen Tiebo said the heavy rains that hit the region in recent days had triggered the landslide.
“There are several tons of rock” over the village, he told the state broadcaster 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.
More rain forecast
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.”
A report from the state news agency Xinhua said that the landslide occurred when the high part of a mountain in the Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba collapsed.
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.