China landslide kills 43, three missing

BEIJING (AFP) - Three people remain missing after a landslide which killed 43, including seven from a single family, struck a remote village in south-western China, state media said on Saturday.

Another two victims were sent to hospital after being rescued from the debris from the landslip on Friday which engulfed 16 homes in the village of Gaopo, the official news agency Xinhua said.

It reported that 19 children were among those caught in the disaster.

Rescuers continued their search for the three missing people in the early hours of Saturday morning, with the help of lamps and life detectors in freezing conditions, Xinhua said.

It added that the landslide had been triggered by prolonged rain and snow, according to initial geologists' reports.

Photos posted on Yunnan Web, run by the Yunnan provincial government, showed rescuers in orange uniforms digging into wide swathes of mud against a backdrop of snow-covered, terraced hills.

A video posted on a Chinese social networking site appeared to show a group of villagers digging through thick mud and debris to uncover a body, which was carried away on a stretcher.

"The landslide, which brought about several hundred thousand cubic metres of watery mud to the village, buried all of the houses there," Xinhua quoted a local rescue team leader, Sun Anfa, as saying.

The conditions "created great difficulties for rescue efforts amid low temperatures", he added.

More than 1,000 rescuers were sent to the disaster site, which was estimated to be 300m long, 80m wide and 30m deep, according to authorities.

Snow was visible in images of the rescue, in an area that has experienced unusually low temperatures in recent weeks during what authorities have called China's coldest winter in 28 years.

The Communist Party's top leaders Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, along with Premier Wen Jiabao, ordered "all-out efforts to rescue victims", Xinhua said It reported that villagers had rushed to the scene with shovels and hoes to dig through the mud.

"We pulled out several people, one of whom was breathing weakly, but after a while he died," resident Li Yongju told Xinhua.

Another resident, Zhou Benju, said she had lost several relatives in the disaster, according to the agency.

"Several relatives of my parents, my grandma, brother, uncle and my aunt's family members died," she said.

Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, is a relatively poor part of China where rural houses are often cheaply constructed.

Gaopo is in Zhenxiong county, in the northeast of Yunnan, a temperate province known for its tobacco industry and for being the home of Pu'er tea.

But its mountainous areas are prone to landslides and earthquakes. Two in September - one of magnitude 5.7 - left 81 people dead and hundreds injured.

Mr Wen made an overnight trip to the quake zone at the time to comfort survivors, many of whom had taken refuge in tents erected on a public square.

A county neighbouring Zhenxiong was hit by a landslide in October that killed 18 children, after one which killed 216 people in 1991, according to the United States Geological Survey.

An earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan province in 2008 claimed around 70,000 lives - the worst natural disaster to hit China in three decades, with shoddy buildings blamed for the high toll.