A desperate search for three people missing in a landslide in southwestern China ended yesterday when their bodies were pulled from the mud, taking the final death toll to 46 — many of them children.
Authorities in Yunnan Province said that the last three bodies were recovered yesterday morning after a night of frantic efforts by more than 1,000 rescue workers to locate the final missing residents of the remote village of Gaopo (高坡村).
The state-run Xinhua news agency said that those buried included 27 adults and 19 children.
Two other people were hospitalized after the landslide struck on Friday morning, engulfing 16 homes, bringing a thunderous crash and throwing up thick clouds of dust, Xinhua said.
Rescuers toiled into the night, braving bitter winds and freezing temperatures, using lamps and specialized detection devices in the hope of locating the missing, Xinhua said.
Soldiers, police, firefighters and mine rescue workers joined the search operation, using 20 excavators and trucks, it added.
Li Yongju (李勇菊), 50, said she heard the crash of the landslide while cleaning her yard and rushed with other villagers to the disaster site with shovels and hoes.
“We pulled out several people, one of whom was breathing weakly. But after a while, he died,” Xinhua quoted Li as saying.
Zhou Benju (周本菊) wept as she recounted hearing the rumble of the landslide.
“Several relatives of my parents — my grandma, brother, uncle and my aunt’s family members died,” she told the agency.
Hundreds of thousands of messages of support have been posted on microblogging site Sina Weibo.
“Pray for those who remain missing in the debris. Life is too fragile. We only wish miracles can happen!” read one post.
“It is a tragedy, a real tragedy!” wrote another on Sohu.com.
Photos on Yunnan Web, run by the Yunnan provincial government, showed rescuers in orange uniforms digging into wide swathes of mud against a backdrop of snow-covered, terraced hills.
A video posted on a Chinese social networking site appeared to show a group of villagers digging through thick mud and debris to uncover a body, which was carried away on a stretcher.
Xinhua said that the landslide had been triggered by 10 days of non-stop rain and snow, according to initial geologists’ reports.
The area has experienced unusually low temperatures in recent weeks during what authorities have called China’s coldest winter in 28 years.
The landslide spread over an area 120m long, 110m wide and 16m deep, the authorities said.
The Chinese Communist Party’s top leaders, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), along with Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), ordered “all-out efforts to rescue victims,” Xinhua said.
Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, is a relatively poor part of China where rural houses are often cheaply constructed.
Gaopo Village is in Zhenxiong County, in the northeast of Yunnan, a temperate province known for its tobacco industry and for being the home of Pu-er tea.
However, its mountainous areas are prone to landslides and earthquakes. Two quakes in September last year — one of magnitude 5.7 — left 81 dead and hundreds injured.