SHENZHEN (AFP) - A landslide which swept through an industrial park in southern China buried more than 30 buildings in a sea of mud, left 59 people missing and triggered a gas explosion on Sunday (Dec 20), state media reported.
Witnesses described a mass of red earth and mud racing towards Liuxi Industrial Park in the city of Shenzhen before burying or crushing homes and factories, twisting some of them into grotesque shapes.
More than 1,500 emergency workers were involved in the rescue.
In its latest update on Sunday evening, the official Xinhua news agency reported three injured and 59 still missing. It was unclear whether there had been any fatalities.
The disaster occurred at 11.40am on Sunday, Xinhua said, and seven fire engines were initially dispatched to the scene. By mid-afternoon more than 1,500 people were combing through the debris for signs of life.
The slide ruptured a natural gas pipeline and triggered an explosion at the Hengtaiyu industrial park which was heard about 4km away, the agency said.
It said debris covered more than 10ha.
About 900 people were moved out of harm’s way before the landslide struck late in the morning in the city bordering Hong Kong, according to the Shenzhen Evening News newspaper.
The landslide buried 22 residential and industrial buildings including two worker dormitories, state broadcaster CCTV said. But it quoted Mr Ren Jiguang, deputy chief of Shenzhen’s public security bureau, as saying most people had been evacuated beforehand.
The cause of the slide was unclear. A video posted by Xinhua showed a massive dust cloud and piles of rubble where buildings once stood. Rescue helicopters were in operation near the scene.
"I saw red earth and mud running towards the company building," one local worker was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
"Fortunately, our building was not hit, and all people in our company were safely evacuated," the worker said, adding that a fishpond broke the full force of the landslide.
A park worker identified only by his surname Tian told the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily that his boss and his family were buried in the rubble. Only Mr Tian and a driver of the family managed to escape.
Another man, a Mr Xiang, told the daily that a friend of his and his three children were trapped.
A woman surnamed Hu told the Shenzhen Evening News she saw her father buried by earth in his own truck.
"It's been hours after he was buried, and we are quite worried," she said.
President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang ordered immediate rescue efforts.
The State Council, or cabinet, sent a working group to coordinate rescue efforts, which involved almost 100 fire trucks plus sniffer dogs, drones and other equipment.
The Beijing Youth Daily, citing a local resident, reported that the soil in the area had been dug up in construction work over the past two years and piled up against a 100m-high hill.
A landslide last month that engulfed 27 homes in rural Zhejiang province killed 38 people.