Landslide claims lives of 46 villagers in disaster-prone region of Yunnan

Many were children, in same region where 18 pupils died in October

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 4:21am


A desperate search for three people missing in a landslide in Yunnan province ended yesterday when their bodies were pulled from the mud, taking the final death toll to 46 - many of them children.

Authorities in the southwestern region said the last three bodies were recovered yesterday morning after a night of frantic efforts by more than 1,000 rescue workers to locate the final missing residents in the remote village of Gaopo.

Xinhua said the victims were 27 adults and 19 children.

Two other people were warded in hospital after the landslide struck on Friday morning, engulfing 16 homes, bringing a thunderous crash and throwing up clouds of dust, Xinhua said.

Rescuers toiled into the night, braving bitter wind and freezing temperatures, using lamps and specialised detection devices in the hope of locating the missing, Xinhua reported.

Soldiers, police, firefighters and mine rescue workers joined the search operation, using 20 excavators and trucks, it said.

Zhou Benju wept as she recounted hearing the rumble of the landslide.

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

Jiang Xingwu, head of a group of geological disaster prevention experts under the provincial land and resources bureau, said the region's steep slopes, unstable soil and recent rain contributed to the landslide.

Jiang said earthquakes that jolted Yiliang county on September 7 last year were also a factor.

The area has experienced unusually low temperatures in recent weeks during what authorities call the mainland's coldest winter in 28 years.

The landslide spread over an area 120 metres long, 110 metres wide and 16 metres deep, authorities said.

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

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

A neighbouring county was hit by a landslide in October that killed 18 children at a school. Another landslide in the same area killed 216 people in 1991.