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World & Nation

9 bodies found after landslide buries scores in southwest China

A woman tears up as she clutches paper offerings upon arriving at the site of a landslide in Xinmo v
A woman brings paper offerings to the landslide site in Xinmo.
(Ng Han Guan / Associated Press)

Chinese crews recovered nine bodies and were still searching for 109 others Sunday, a day after a massive landslide buried a picturesque mountain village in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

More than 2,500 rescuers with detection devices and dogs were looking for signs of life amid the rubble of massive boulders that descended on Xinmo village in Mao county early Saturday. The government lowered an earlier figure of 15 dead retrieved, which was initially reported in the state media.

Three people — a couple and their month-old infant — were the only ones rescued from the site Saturday.

A government-run news outlet said the adults were in stable condition and the baby was sent to an intensive care unit with pneumonia induced by mud inhalation.

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Relatives from nearby villages were sobbing as they awaited news of their loved ones. A woman told the Associated Press that she had no information on her family members in Xinmo. She said she had only heard reports that body parts were found.

The landslide carried an estimated 282 million cubic feet of earth and rock, equivalent to more than 3,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, when it slid down from steep mountains. It buried one mile of road and blocked a 1.2-mile section of a river as it completely wiped away the village that was once home to 46 families, more than 100 people.

Sitting on the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau and part of the Aba prefecture, Xinmo village has in recent years become a tourism destination for its picturesque scenery of homes in lush meadows nestled between steep and rugged mountains. Images posted by local authorities in social media now show a vast area of rubble with hardly any trace of a home.

There were 142 tourists about the time the landslide hit, and all were alive, said Xu Zhiwen, executive deputy governor of the Aba prefecture.

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Three members of the Qiao family were found five hours after the landslide. Qiao Dashuai, 26, told the state broadcaster CCTV that he and his wife awoke to cries from their 1-month-old son about 5:30 a.m.

“Just after we changed the diaper for the baby, we heard a big bang outside and the light went out,” the husband said. “We felt that something bad was happening and immediately rushed to the door, but the door was blocked by mud and rocks.”

Qiao told CCTV his family was swept away by water as part of a mountain collapsed. He said they struggled against the flood until they met medical workers who took them to a hospital. His parents and other relatives were among the missing.

Experts on state media say the landslide was likely triggered by rain. The mountainous region has been prone to geological disasters. In May 2008, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake killed nearly 90,000 people in Wenchuan county, some 25 miles from Mao county.

Scientist He Siming told the state-owned Beijing News that the 2008 earthquake could have done structural damage to the mountains surrounding Xinmo. He said the rain could have been the trigger.

In 2014, a landslide in the same county killed 11 when it struck a section of a highway.

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