Hopes fade for 93 missing, only 10 bodies found after deadly China landslide

Published 25.06.2017 14:45
Updated 25.06.2017 14:51
Rescue workers evacuate a body from the site of a landslide in the village of Xinmo, Mao County, Sichuan Province, China June 25, 2017. (Reuters Photo)
Rescue workers evacuate a body from the site of a landslide in the village of Xinmo, Mao County, Sichuan Province, China June 25, 2017. (Reuters Photo)

Rescuers retrieved 10 bodies on Sunday as the increasingly desperate search continued for at least 93 people missing a day after a massive landslide buried a mountain village in south-western China.

The Sichuan provincial government revised the death toll down to 10 on Sunday from a previous count of 15 first reported on Saturday by state media. The authorities also lowered the number of missing to 93, after 15 people were accounted for.

The names of 118 people were published earlier Sunday on the website of Aba Tibet and Qiang autonomous prefecture as the government sought public help locating the missing residents of Xinmo village, the Xinhua news agency reported.

A couple and their 36-day-old baby rescued on Saturday morning remained the only survivors of the tragedy as of Sunday afternoon.

Qiao Dashuai and his wife awoke about 5:30 am Saturday to cries from their son, he told state media.

"Just after we changed his nappy, we heard a big bang outside and the lights went out," said Qiao, 26.

"We felt that something bad was happening and immediately rushed to the door, which was blocked by mud and rocks."

Infant and parents were taken to the West China Second University Hospital in Chengdu, about 200 kilometres from Xinmo.

Husband and wife suffered bruises, Xinhua said. The baby, who swallowed muddy water, was being treated for pneumonia. Qiao's parents and a 3-year-old daughter are still missing.

Sitting on the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau in Aba prefecture's Mao County, Xinmo has in recent years become a tourism destination for its picturesque scenery of homes in lush meadows tucked between steep and rugged mountains. But after the landslide, the village was reduced to a vast area of rubble.

As heavy machines removed debris and men scoured the rubble for survivors on Sunday, relatives from nearby villages sobbed as they awaited news of their loved ones.

"It was as if strong winds were blowing by, or a big truck rumbled by," Tang Hua, a 38-year-old woman from a nearby village, told The Associated Press. "The houses were shaking, as if there were an earthquake. We rushed out and saw massive smoke. With a thundering sound, the smoke suddenly lifted. We realized it was a landslide."

"As we ran for safety, we looked this way and saw the village flattened," she said.

Tang has relatives in Xinmo, but she said little could be done at this point. "The whole village is done for," she said.

The landslide carried an estimated 18 million cubic meters (636 million cubic feet) of earth and rock — equivalent to more than 7,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools — when it slid down from steep mountains. Some of it fell from as high as 1.6 kilometers (1 mile).

It buried 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of road and blocked a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) section of a river as it completely wiped away the village, which was once home to 46 families comprising more than 100 people.

Experts on state media said the landslide was likely triggered by rain. The mountainous region has been prone to geological disasters. In May 2008, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake killed nearly 90,000 people in Wenchuan County, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Mao County.

Scientist He Siming told the state-run Beijing News that the 2008 quake could have done structural damage to the mountains flanking Xinmo. He said the rain could have been the external cause of the landslide.

In 2014, a landslide in the same county killed 11 people when it struck a section of a highway.

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