China landslide rescue operation continues for 118 still missing; hopes fade

The officials say that only three survivors, including a couple and their one-month-old baby, were found alive in the hours after the heavy rainfall.

China landslide
Rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a landslide that occurred in Xinmo Village, Mao County, Sichuan province, China June 24, 2017. The writing on the flag reads: 'Chengdu Fire Departmant Rescue Team'. Reuters

Chinese rescue workers dug through rock and mud for a second day on Sunday in search of 118 people, who are still missing, after a huge landslide buried a mountain village in the south-western part of the country. During the first day's operation, the rescuers pulled out 15 bodies from the avalanche of rocks that crashed into 62 homes in Xinmo.

The officials said only three survivors, including a couple and their one-month-old baby, were found alive in the hours after the heavy rainfall brought down a side of the mountain early on Saturday. There was no news of any other survivors being found.

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

"The house shook," he told state broadcaster 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 state-owned Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities had not updated an overnight toll of 15 confirmed dead, but the geological experts said that chances of survival for the missing were slim. The landslide blocked a 2-km stretch of river and 1.6 km of road.

Xinhua reported that about 3,000 workers with life-detection instruments were taking part in the search. The report said that the names of the missing people were posted on government websites.

The state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) showed images of industrial excavators removing rubble from a hillside along with workers in hard hats. The channel reported that further light showers are expected on Sunday and Monday. However, the downpour is not expected to affect search efforts.

Apart from Xinhua, CCTV and party mouthpiece People's Daily, the reports of the landslide remained largely absent from wider Chinese media.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has offered his condolences and said in a statement that the UN is prepared to offer any needed support.

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. 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.