At least 15 people have died, 118 are missing and three have been rescued after a landslide triggered by torrential rain hit Maoxian County, southwest China's Sichuan Province on Saturday morning, the provincial government announced at a press conference, adding that over 320 people have been evacuated.
Fifteen bodies had been found as of 10:00 p.m. local time, according to the rescue headquarters.
According to Wang Minghui, secretary general of Sichuan provincial government, more than 3,000 rescuers are working at the disaster site, and a command center has been set up at the scene.
The authorities are working to prevent subsequent collapses from happening, while geological experts have said the rescue operation will be very challenging.
Wang also promised to disclose all information to the public in a timely fashion.
Maoxian County is located in the southeastern part of the Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba in Sichuan Province, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.
Catastrophic geological disaster
The landslide struck Xinmo Village of Diexi Town in Maoxian County at 5:45 a.m. local time. As of 10:25 p.m. BJT, 15 bodies had been found, with at least 118 people missing and 62 homes buried.
About eight million cubic meters of earth and rocks slid down the mountain, blocking a two-kilometer-long section of a river and over 1.6 kilometers of road.
Comprehensive rescue operation
Local authorities activated level-I emergency response procedures, the highest of a four-tier system, following the massive landslide.
Chinese armed police force members in rescue operation. /VCG Photo
Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered all-out rescue efforts in the wake of the disaster.
Xi said rescue workers should do all they can to reach people buried under the debris, and save as many as they can and minimize casualties, adding that appropriate care should be given to the family members of the missing people and those who have suffered losses.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also requested all-out search and rescue work, urging authorities to check potential geological hazards in surrounding areas and evacuate people as soon as possible when needed.
A work team sent by the State Council is on the way to the scene, and some 3,000 rescue workers and medical personnel have been dispatched. The on-site rescue operation is being conducted with the help of dozens of rescue vehicles and instruments such as excavators and life-detection equipment.
So far, three people from one family sent to the Maoxian County People's Hospital after escaping from the debris have no life-threatening injuries.
Heartwarming online reaction
Chinese netizens have shown great concern in the wake of this catastrophe, praying for the missing and their families on many social media platforms. "It is so heartbreaking that a village and its residents disappear", "hope those who we have lost touch with can safely come back" were just some of the many comments left.
The first batch of relief materials from the Red Cross Society of Sichuan Province has arrived in the disaster-affected area, including clothes, cotton quilts and family packs. Other materials are on the way.
The first batch of Red Cross search and rescue teams was also sent to the site with 200,000 yuan (29,250 US dollars) for emergency disaster relief assistance.
What caused the landslide?
Before and after pictures shows Xinmo Village in SW China buried by the massive landslide /Photo provided by the official Weibo account of Maoxian county
According to the government, the initial investigation shows the landslide occurred when the upper section of a nearby mountain collapsed due to heavy rainfall.
The rescue operation is hindered by the terrain conditions after the landslide, which makes the search and rescue work highly difficult, according to geologists on site.
Light to moderate rainfall is forecast for the next three days in the region, and but it won't affect rescue efforts, according to He Lifu, chief forecaster at China's central meteorological station. He reminded rescue workers to keep warm, as temperatures are expected to drop during the evening.