KUNMING, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The death toll from a landslide that hit a mountainous region in southwest China's Yunnan Province on Friday has risen to 43 after more bodies were retrieved. Three are missing.
Chinese leaders Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao and Li Keqiang have ordered all-out efforts to rescue victims of the landslide in order to minimize casualties from the disaster.
Xi, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said efforts must be made to resettle affected residents, prevent secondary disasters and successfully complete relief work and reconstruction so as to ensure stability.
Xi also asked agencies involved in disaster relief to offer proper psychological treatment to affected residents and maintain public order.
The State Council, or China's Cabinet, has sent a work group comprised of leaders from various government departments, including the land and resources, civil affairs, finance, transport and health ministries, to the landslide-hit zone to direct relief work.
The work group, headed by Xu Shaoshi, minister of land and resources, will focus on solving practical problems on site.
The landslide hit the Zhaojiagou area of Gaopo Village, Zhenxiong County around 8:20 a.m. Friday. Zhenxiong is some 550 km northeast of Yunnan provincial capital Kunming.
Forty-six residents -- 27 adults and 19 children -- were buried in the landslide, according to the local civil affairs bureau. The Zhaojiagou area had a total of 73 households with a population of 468.
Two other injured people have been sent to a nearby hospital, and it has been confirmed that their injuries are not life-threatening.
Snow continued. As of 11 p.m. Friday, rescuers were still searching for the missing, with the help of lamps and life detectors. They hoped to find any survivors despite bitter wind and low temperatures.
More than 20 excavators and front-loader trucks have been used in the rescue operation.
"Many soldiers had even no time for their meals," said Liu Guanneng, head of the fire fighting squad of Zhaotong City, at the scene.
"We divide ourselves into three 20-member teams. We take turns to continue the search every two hours," said Liu, his clothes all in mud. He referred to the rescue arrangements of his own squad on Friday night.
Wang Ying, a doctor in Yile Town hospital in Zhenxiong County, said they rushed here at 9 a.m. after receiving orders and had been busy working late Friday night.
More than 1,000 soldiers, police, fire fighters and mine rescue workers had joined the search operation, said Feng Xuelan, secretary of the Zhenxiong county committee of the Communist Party of China.
Li Yongju, a 50-year-old resident of Zengjiazhai, which neighbors Zhaojiagou, said she heard great crashing sounds while cleaning her yard at around 8 a.m.. She realized there had been a landslide after seeing thick dusts shrouding Zhaojiagou.
She said she quickly called her neighbors to run to Zhaojiagou, only to see all the residential area flattened. She then ran back home to call police.
She and other villagers then rushed to Zhaojiagou with shovels and hoes to sift the debris and search for people.
"We pulled out several people, one of whom was breathing weakly. But after a while, he died," said Li, whose own house developed cracks after the disaster.
Zhou Benju, another resident of Zengjiazhai, said she was woken up by the loud noise and rushed out of her house.
"In this disaster, several relatives of my parents -- my grandma, brother, uncle and my aunt's family members, died," she wept. She was born in Zhaojiagou and married to a man from the Zengjiazhai area.
Zhou helped cook meals for the rescuers.
Despite the freezing weather, hundreds of thousands of warm-hearted citizens nationwide have been closely following the progress of the disaster relief and rescue.
In cyberspace, they have posted latest news every few seconds, expressing sadness about the growing list of casualties and praying for miracles regarding those who are still buried in the debris.
On popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, posts about the landslide have reached more than 400,000. Many netizens stayed up on Friday night to add their own contributions to the site.
"Tonight, let us show our condolences for the dead compatriots of Zhenxiong, pray for those who remain missing in the debris. Life is too fragile. We only wish miracles can happen!" read one particularly popular post on Sina Weibo.
"It is a tragedy, a real tragedy!" sighed a netizen with the user name Pofuchenzhou642748 on popular web portal Sohu. com.
"The landslide was a natural disaster. We can only show our love and kindness," added a Sohu.com netizen registered in neighboring Sichuan Province.
CAUSE OF DISASTER
Prolonged local rainy and snowy weather triggered the landslide, geological experts said after initial investigations.
Li Lianju, deputy director of the Yunnan Land and Resources Department, said the landslide happened on a high, steep slope, where the rocky body had been marinated fully by the rain and snow over the past 10 consecutive days.
The landslide, 120 meters long, 110 meters wide, and 16 meters high, resulted in about 210,000 cubic meters of mud and rock, Li said.
"The sliding mud-rock plunged down and suddenly rushed into the one-hectare residential area of the village after passing a flat area, immediately burying and completely destroying 14 houses, and damaging two other houses," said the official.
Li added no such landslide had ever happened in the area before.
"The landslide, which brought a massive amount of watery mud to the village, buried all of the houses there and created great difficulties for rescue efforts amid low temperatures," said Sun Anfa, the leader of a local rescue team.
Feng, secretary of Zhenxiong county commitee of the CPC, said 57 households threatened by possible new landslides had been relocated to a nearby primary school, emergency tents, or the residences of their relatives.
The government and provincial red cross society have sent 230 tents, 300 quilts and 300 coats to the disaster-hit area, in addition to hundreds of packages of food and mineral water.
The governments at provincial, municipal and county levels had earmarked more than 10 million yuan (about 1.6 million U.S. dollars) for the rescue and disaster relief efforts.
Each family of the victims could get an initial subsidy of 10,000 yuan. The identities of the dead will be confirmed by DNA tests and their relatives, said Liu Jianhua, mayor of Zhaotong City. He said the city had issued an emergency notice to thoroughly inspect disaster-prone areas.
Zhenxiong County is adjacent to Yiliang County, where 19 people, including 18 primary school students, were killed in a landslide in October.
In September, a series of earthquakes -- with the strongest registering a magnitude of 5.7 -- struck the region, leaving at least 81 people dead in Yiliang.
A cold front will move toward the region in the coming week, bringing rain and snow to Zhenxiong County, according to the Yunnan provincial meteorological bureau.
Provincial and local meteorological authorities have initiated an emergency response mechanism for major natural disasters.
KUNMING, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The death toll from a landslide which hit a village in southwest China's Yunnan Province has risen to 43 after one more body was retrieved, said a local official early Saturday. Full story