A landslide killed at least 42 people including seven from a single family when it smashed into a remote village in southwestern China on Friday, state media said.
Another two people were sent to hospital after being rescued from the debris while at least two more were still missing after the landslip engulfed 16 homes in the village of Gaopo, the official news agency Xinhua said.
Photos posted on Yunnan Web, run by the Yunnan provincial government showed rescuers in orange uniforms digging in wide swathes of clumpy 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 site of the landslide, which was estimated to be 300 metres long, 80 metres wide and 30 metres deep, according to authorities.
Snow was visible in images of the rescue, in an area that has experienced unusually low temperatures in recent weeks, with China suffering what authorities have called its 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, adding that more than 1,000 rescuers were on the scene.
Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, is a relatively impoverished area 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 it is also vulnerable to earthquakes.