China mounted a major rescue effort Saturday with 118 people still missing after a landslide caused by torrential rain destroyed a mountain village in the southwestern province of Sichuan earlier in the day, state media reported.
Just 15 bodies had been recovered by late Saturday.
The landslide hit the village of Xinmo in Maoxian county some time after 5 a.m., burying 62 houses, according to the Sichuan provincial government, state media said. Three survivors – a couple and their month-old baby – were rescued and taken to the hospital.
Qiao Dashuai said they had survived only because his infant son had woken him up.
“It was after 5 a.m. and my son was crying, so I got up to change his diaper,” he told China Central Television. “Then I heard a loud noise from the back. I thought it was the wind, so I went to close the door, but air and water came in, and rocks landed in the living room.”
Qiao said he and his wife had grabbed their son and ran out of the house.
The rest of the village was obliterated, and hopes of finding anyone else alive appeared slim.
“When I got to Xinmo village around 6 a.m., there was only one house in the entire village that was still visible,” Li Yuanjun, a local official, told the Sichuan Daily newspaper. “Everything else was buried by rocks and mud.”
Zhang Liancheng, who lives in a nearby village, said the landslide buried eight members of his family. “It was raining, and the house was shaking,” he told the local newspaper Huaxi Metropolis Daily. “It was very foggy, and I could only see something like a fire pushing toward Xinmo village.”
Chen Tiebo, a local police official, told CCTV that there were more people in the village than usual because students were home for the summer holiday.
Some 140 tourists were evacuated from nearby villages after the landslide, thepaper.cn website reported.
Maoxian county is largely inhabited by members of the small Qiang ethnic group, known for building watchtowers and rope bridges in their mountainous lands, as well as for dancing and colorful costumes. Maoxian lies in Sichuan’s Aba prefecture, about 110 miles by road north of the provincial capital, Chengdu, and is a relatively popular tourist destination.
“The whole village is buried, buried,” a man is heard saying on a video posted on the website of Sichuan Daily, as his camera pans across earth and rocks at the scene.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an all-out rescue effort, while Premier Li Keqiang also “issued instructions” on the rescue work, state media reported.
The Maoxian county government said 1,959 people, including soldiers, police and medical workers, were involved in rescue operations, with 31 pieces of equipment including bulldozers and diggers. Images from the scene showed rescue workers clambering across a gray sea of boulders and rocks.
The landslide also blocked a 1.2-mile stretch of river, local officials told Xinhua.
At 8:15 p.m., another, smaller landslide struck the area, but no casualties were reported.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Simon Denyer