At least 32 people have died and dozens remain missing after a landslide swept through a village in the mountains of southern China, local government and state media have said.

The landslide smothered 16 homes on Friday morning in Zhaojiagou village, and hours later more than 40 people were missing, said a notice posted on the website of Zhenxiong county in Yunnan province, where the village is located.

Rescuers recovered 32 bodies, among them a family of seven, said a report on the website of the Yunnan Daily, the official newspaper of the provincial government.

Photographs posted on the news site showed rescue crews in orange jumpsuits using construction machinery to sift through massive piles of mud and earth.

Behind them stood hillsides and pine trees covered in snow, signs of the unusually cold winter that has hit all of China.

Reports did not say what triggered the landslide, but such events do occur periodically in the region, which is prone to earthquakes and heavy rains.

In a nearby county, 81 people died after an earthquake in September.

A month later, a landslide buried a primary school, leaving 18 students and one other person dead.

Cold spell

Elsewhere in the southwest Guizhou province, an estimated 420,000 people are in a "state of disaster" due to the freezing weather, state-owned People's Daily said. 

Over the past few days, temperatures in China have plunged to their lowest in 28 years, with frozen coastal waters, cancelled flights and closed highways.

In the city of Genhe in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the temperature reached a low of minus 44.8C, marking the fourth big temperature drop the region has experienced thus far this winter.

The cold front has also contributed to heavy fog, which has reduced visibility in some areas to less than 70 metres and is affecting traffic and travel throughout the region.

The extreme weather is forecast to continue for the next three to five days according to the local meteorological department.

Source: Agencies