At least five people were found dead and over 120 remained missing hours after a massive landslide buried a mountain village in southwest China on Saturday as rescuers scoured through rocks for survivors.
A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after dozens of homes in the village of Xinmo were swallowed by 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 hours after heavy rain triggered the avalanche of rock in Sichuan province, officials said.
Wu Xiaobin, captain of the local fire department, told state broadcaster CCTV that five bodies were pulled from the rubble.
The early morning landslide, which occurred following heavy rains in the region, struck 62 homes and blocked a two-kilometre (one-mile) stretch of river and 1.6 kilometre of road, according to state media.
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 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.
More than 120 people were still missing hours after the landslide, CCTV and China’s official news agency Xinhua reported. State media had earlier reported that 141 people may have been buried but did not explain why the figure had been revised.
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 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.
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.