June 24, 2017 / 4:08 AM / 3 months ago

Hopes fade in China for 93 missing in landslide

MAO COUNTY, China (Reuters) - Rescue workers in southwestern China pulled bodies out of piles of rock and mud on Sunday as they searched for 93 people missing after a landslide buried a mountain village, with some residents giving up hope of finding survivors.

A huge landslide crashed down on the village of Xinmo, in mountainous Sichuan province, as dawn broke on Saturday.

Authorities at the scene said on Sunday that 10 bodies had been confirmed recovered, contradicting a report by the Xinhua state news agency on Saturday saying that 15 people had been confirmed killed.

On Sunday industrial excavators removed rubble at the site of the landslide while workers in hard hats searched for signs of life as relatives of the lost cried or looked on stone-faced nearby.

“This is useless,” villager Han Jianying, searching for missing family members, told Reuters. “Everyone’s going to be in pieces anyway.”

Heavy rain triggered the landslide, authorities said.

More light showers are likely but are not expected to affect the search, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

A couple and their two-month-old baby were the only survivors reported to have been found alive. Authorities reduced the number of missing after 15 people were confirmed as safe, the Xinmo village propaganda department said on its microblog.

It was not clear if the 15 had been rescued or had simply been away at the time of the disaster.

The rescue involved more than 3,000 people despite the danger of more landslides, Xinhua reported.

Geological experts said the chances of anyone surviving under the rubble were slim, Xinhua reported.

Rescue workers pull a rescue dog across a river at the site of a landslide in the village of Xinmo, Mao County, Sichuan Province, China June 25, 2017. CNS/An Yuan via REUTERS

“We weren’t able to pull anyone out alive,” said Wu Youheng, who lives in a neighbouring village and rushed to help on Saturday.

“We pulled out two people but they were already dead. I think it’s too late, they’re unlikely to find anyone else alive.”

The area is prone to landslides but the scale of Saturday’s slide was unprecedented, Wu added.

Slideshow (15 Images)

Wu’s wife, Zhang Xiaohong, said they often sleep in other villages for fear of landslides but could not afford to move to a safer part of Mao county.

County residents are primarily poor farmers of the Qiang ethnic minority and the area is the target of a poverty alleviation project, government officials said.

Much of those efforts focuses on attracting tourists to nearby scenic spots and an ancient village. Xinhua reported that all 142 tourists in the area had been evacuated from the area.

The names of the missing were posted on government websites.

Wang Yong, a member of China’s State Council, or cabinet, dispatched to the disaster site, urged an all-out search-and-rescue effort and measures to prevent further disasters by monitoring geological activity, Xinhua reported.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in offering his condolences, said in a statement that the United Nations is prepared to offer any support.

Sichuan province is prone to earthquakes, including an 8.0 magnitude tremor in central Sichuan’s Wenchuan county in 2008 that killed nearly 70,000 people.

For a map showing the location of the landslide in China click - tmsnrt.rs/2t4A3FU

Additional reporting by Reuters television, Jake Spring in BEIJING and Michelle Nichols in NEW YORK; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel and David Goodman

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