Rescue called off at flattened village as Chinese authorities warn of landslides

Updated 2:58 AM EDT, Mon June 26, 2017
Chinese military police and rescue workers search the site of a landslide at the Xinmo village, in China's Sichuan province on, Saturday, June 24, 2017. Many people are feared buried after a landslide smashed through the village.
STR/AFP/Getty Images
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Story highlights

Radar monitoring detects land shifting at site of landslide

Experts say heavy rain and 2008 earthquake may have caused landslide

(CNN) —  

Rescue efforts at the scene of a landslide that flattened a village in southwest China have been called off after authorities warned of the risk of more land collapsing.

Thousands of rescuers had been combing through rubble to find 93 people missing after the landslide devastated their remote mountain village in Sichuan province.

Dozens of homes were buried when the landslide hit Xinmo village in Mao County, Aba Prefecture Saturday morning that experts said was caused by torrential rain and possible geological damage from a 2008 earthquake.

The Sichuan Province Work Safety Supervision and Management Bureau ordered rescuers to halt work around 11:10 a.m. local time, after radar monitoring had detected the land had shifted at the site. Journalists were also told to leave the scene.

According to the Mao County Government Press Office 10 bodies had been recovered since the beginning of the rescue operation on Saturday.

The local government told CNN 93 people were still unaccounted for and 15 people thought to have died had subsequently been found safe.

Rain, earthquake blamed for mountain collapse

Experts quoted in Chinese state media said recent heavy rains, combined with structural damage to the mountain caused by the massive earthquake that hit the region in 2008, had caused the landslide.

Eighteen million cubic meters of debris – enough to fill 7,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools – slid 1,250 meters downhill at a 55- to 60-degree angle straight at the village, said Pei Xiangjun, a geological disaster expert at the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Family members grieve at the site of a landslide in Xinmo village on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
Ng Han Guan/AP
Family members grieve at the site of a landslide in Xinmo village on Sunday, June 25, 2017.

Xu Qiang, another disaster expert at the Ministry of Land and Resources, said that the local government had chosen not to relocate villagers after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

“Many of the villagers have been living here for generations and seen no major geological disasters,” Xu said. “This is their home and livelihood, and it is very difficult to convince them to leave, especially when you only have a hypothesis and predictions.”

Chinese rescuers search for survivors at a landslide area in the village of Xinmo in Maoxian county, China's Sichuan province on June 25, 2017.
STR/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese rescuers search for survivors at a landslide area in the village of Xinmo in Maoxian county, China's Sichuan province on June 25, 2017.

Amid the grim search for bodies, there have been rays of hope.

A family of three emerged alive from the rubble Saturday, the Mao County government said on its official Weibo social media page. The couple and their baby were being treated at the Mao County People’s Hospital, the post said.

Qiao Dashuai, whose infant is 1 month old, said he heard a loud sound and tried to close the door to his house against the wind, he told CCTV.

“I ran outside and felt this strong wind and saw water rushing towards us,” he said. “A rock fell into our living room. We slowly crawled out while holding our baby and escaped. People from a neighboring village gave the baby a bath, and looked for clothes for us and the baby. As we went to the crossroads, we saw an ambulance. The ambulance sent us to Mao County (Hospital).”

“Now we just have external wounds, and there aren’t any major problems. But my heart feels uncomfortable,” he said.

Mountainous Sichuan province has a history of landslides triggered by flooding and earthquakes.

In 1933, 6,800 people died in landslides triggered by an earthquake and 2,500 more were killed when one of the landslides caused a dam to fail.