China landslide death toll rises to 31 after dozens buried in freezing winter temperatures


The death toll from a landslide in southwest China has risen to 31, state media reported Tuesday, as rescue workers comb mud, snow and rubble in search of survivors.

The landslide hit the mountain village of Liangshui in Yunnan province shortly before dawn Monday, burying 18 homes and dozens of people.

More than 1,000 rescue workers, with the help of dogs, drones and other devices, were searching through mounds of rubble in freezing temperatures for 13 people still unaccounted for as of Tuesday night, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

More than 900 people have been evacuated, Xinhua said.

The landslide was triggered by the collapse of a steep cliff at the top of the mountain slope, with the collapsed mass measuring about 100 meters (330 feet) wide, 60 meters high and 6 meters thick, Yunnan officials told a news conference on Tuesday, citing a preliminary investigation.

The collapsed area was about 150 meters above the village, the officials said, without explaining what caused the cliff to crumble.

Drone footage of the disaster site carried by local state media showed a broad slope of dark mud unleashed onto mountain terraces and village roofs covered in snow.

Rescue workers search for survivors.
Chinese military personnel look for survivors in the rubble.

A villager told state-run magazine China News Weekly he was woken by a loud roaring noise early on Monday and rushed out of his house to find out what had happened. The sound rippled in the darkness “like firecrackers being set off,” he said. He soon realized the mountain had collapsed and quickly woke up his family to escape to safety.

Multiple villagers told the magazine they had noticed cracks in the mountain before the landslide. The man who helped his family escape said villagers would avoid the crevices when picking mushrooms or farming potatoes on the mountain.

“Some cracks are very obvious and don’t look safe. (The villagers) are afraid of falling into them and not being able to climb out,” he was quoted as saying.

Some villagers noted there is a coal mine about 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) from the site of the landslide, according to China News Weekly.

Footage aired on CCTV on Monday showed firefighters in orange jumpsuits climbing through the gray rubble of destroyed homes to search for survivors, against the backdrop of steep mountain ridges powdered with snow.

Rescuers work at the site of the landslide.
More than 1,000 rescue workers were deployed to the scene.

The area was hit by heavy snow on Sunday night, and although the snowfall has lightened since, the temperature lingered below freezing Monday when the landslide hit, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Much of southern China, including Yunnan, is in the middle of a cold snap, with temperatures dropping near or below freezing, according to China’s Meteorological Administration.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged local officials to quickly ramp up rescue efforts in a statement published by CCTV.

Xi also called on officials across China to be on high alert to avoid any major accidents as Lunar New Year celebrations approach, according to the broadcaster.

The remote mountains of Yunnan are prone to landslides, due to steep slopes and unstable soil.

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