15 dead, 120 missing in landslide in Sichuan's Maoxin

Up to 62 homes destroyed by boulders after collapse of mountain side due to heavy rains in Xinmo in Maoxin county.

    A desperate search for scores of survivors is under way in southwest China after a massive landslide buried a mountain village, killing at least 15 people.

    China's official news agency Xinhua issued the updated death toll at 14:00 GMT on Saturday, saying the landslide had buried more than 120 people from 62 homes. 

    Earlier, state media had reported that 141 people may have been buried.

    The landslide hit the village of Xinmo, in Maoxin county of Sichuan province, at about 6am local time on Saturday (22:00 GMT Friday), according to reports.

    A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after dozens of houses in Xinmo were destroyed by boulders when the side of a mountain collapsed, according to the Maoxin 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.

    Maoxian county is home to about 110,000 people, according to the government's website. 

    The landslide also blocked a 2km-section of a river. Wang Yongbo, a local rescue official, told state broadcaster CCTV that an estimated three million cubic metres of earth and rock had slid down the mountain.

    Xinmo is known locally for tourism and Chinese reports said it was unclear if tourists were among the people buried by the landslide.

    'Geological disaster'

    An emergency response "to the first-class catastrophic geological disaster" is under way, the statement said, adding that the full extent of the landslide is at yet unclear.

    Search and rescue efforts are under way involving about 500 rescuers, including police. 

    Rescuers are using ropes to move a massive chunk of rock while dozens of others are searching the rubble for survivors, according to videos posted by the Maoxian government on its Weibo social media account.

     

    Bulldozers and heavy diggers have been deployed to remove boulders, the images showed. Medics were seen treating a woman on a road.

    "It's the biggest landslide in this area since the Wenchuan earthquake," Wang Yongbo, one of the local officials in charge of rescue efforts, said, referring to the disaster that killed 87,000 people in 2008 in a town in Sichuan.

    Al Jazeera's Florence Looi, reporting from the capital, Beijing, said the landslide "was reportedly triggered by heavy rain - the Chinese weather department had issued a warning of heavy rain a couple of days ago".

    It was not immediately clear if Sichuan was included in the alert or not.

    China has been experiencing weeks of heavy summer rains that often cause flooding and cause landslides in rural and mountainous regions.

    At least 12 people were killed in January when a landslide struck a hotel in central province of Hubei.

    In October, landslides struck eastern China in the wake of torrential rains brought by Typhoon Megi, causing widespread damage and killing at least eight.

    People search for survivors at the site of a landslide in the Sichuan province of China on Saturday [Reuters]

     

    Rob McElwee, Al Jazeera's Senior Weather Presenter, explains the landslide:

    The rockfall happened in an area more used to earthquakes. The landslide was caused by weather rather than ground shaking.

    There has been no reported seismic activity in China in the last 30 days, but there has been a significant increase in the intensity of seasonal rains. The Meiyu-Baiu rain band forms in spring over southern China and brings annual flooding. It stretches across China from west to east and includes Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

    This rain band moves erratically north with the sun and periodically produces torrential outbursts. On Thursday and Friday, satellite evidence of cloud types suggested that a series of major thunderstorms occurred over the eastern Tibetan Plateau.

    The rainfall reporting network is too sparse on the ground in western Sichuan to confirm figures, but comparable storms further east on the Meiyu-Baiu rain band dropped between 120 and 230mm of rain in a 24-hour period.

    The province of Sichuan, while encompassing a rich and fertile plain, includes, in its west, the mountainous edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The village of Xinmo sits here, in the Hengduan Mountains, approximately 100km north of the provincial capital of Chengdu.

    It appears that heavy rain loosened the ground sufficiently to cause an entire mountainside to collapse on top of the village and fill the Minjian River. Ongoing rescue work will need to not only rescue and recover people but to open the river channel.

    While there will be some more rain in the area over the next two days, it will be of the order of 20mm. The Meiyu-Baiu system has moved to southern Sichuan and the Chinese Meteorological Administration has issued further heavy rain warnings.

    The forecast heaviest rain, of the order of 200mm in 24 hours, is now over the Yangtze River basin from Hubei province eastwards.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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