Dozens Die in Yunnan Landslide

Nineteen children are among 46 people buried under mud and rubble in a southern Chinese village.
2013-01-11
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Chinese rescue workers search for buried residents in Gaopo village, Jan. 11, 2013.
AFP

More than 40 people have died and several others remain missing after a landslide engulfed a mountain village in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan on Friday.

Rescuers were still probing the debris looking for casualties several hours after the disaster hit Gaopo village, in Yunnan's Zhenxiong county, around 550 kilometers (342 miles) northeast of the provincial capital, Kunming.

Villagers told official media they heard "a sound like thunder, firecrackers or trucks dumping rocks" at 8.20 a.m.

"When I woke up and found some neighbors to follow the sound, we saw that the whole village had already been buried under the landslide," Li Yongju, a resident of neighboring Zengjiazhai village, told the Global Times newspaper.

He said the landslide had come after 10 days of snow had hit the areas.

Fourteen households were lost under the mud and rubble, burying at least 46 people, among whom 19 were children, the paper reported.

Snow began falling again on Friday afternoon, hampering relief work and reducing the likelihood of finding survivors, as rescue teams pulled 42 bodies from the mud-drenched debris, official media reported.

An official who answered the phone at an information group set up by the Zhenxiong county government said it was impossible to tell how many more bodies, or even survivors, were still unaccounted for.

"According to government figures, more than 40 people lived in the area that was buried," the official said. "Two people were taken to hospital."

He declined to comment on the likely death toll, or on the likelihood of finding any more people still alive.

"All I can say is that the government is doing everything in its power to rescue people," the official said. "All of our local leaders and rescue personnel are at the scene."

"Altogether, that's more than 800 people."

Poor weather

He said poor weather would make the rescuers' task harder, however.

"The weather in the local area tomorrow and the next day will be bad," he said. "This is going to make search and rescue difficult."

"It's all mountainous around there; one hill after another."

Rescue worker Xiao Weidong said the village had been deluged in more than 200 tonnes of mud and rock, lying 30 meters (98 meters) thick across where part of the village had once stood.

"The conditions for rescue are appalling," Xiao said.

An employee who answered the phone at the Zhenxiong County People's Hospital confirmed that one of the injured had been taken there.

"Yes, one person was brought here," the employee said. A second employee who answered the phone on a medical ward immediately hung up after the RFA reporter identified themselves.

The Yunnan civil affairs department has allocated relief materials like tents, quilts, food and water to the region, official media reported.

The disaster comes after a series of earthquakes and landslides hit nearby Yiliang county late last year, killing at least 81 people.

More rain and snow is forecast, and the local authorities have set in motion an emergency response mechanism for major natural disasters, Xinhua news agency reported.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.