More than 300 rescue workers were deployed along with dozens of fire engines and earth-moving equipment to the site of a devastating landslide in Zhenxiong County, Yunnan province, that has claimed 20 lives so far. The rescue teams worked through the night in freezing temperatures and snow to search for dozens of people still missing after the landslide hit early Monday morning.
The landslide occurred at around 5:51 am local time on January 23, covering houses at the foot of a hill in two villages near Zhaotong city in brown earth. State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said 47 people from 18 households were initially reported missing. 20 deaths have now been confirmed, while 24 people remain unaccounted for.
CCTV aired footage showing rescue crews and sniffer dogs working at the scene, where deep piles of soil and rock covered the area. One rescuer said large machinery cannot be utilized due to the precarious soil, making rescue efforts extremely challenging.
"The excavation is unloaded below; the top may continue to collapse," the emergency worker told The Cover, a local media outlet. "It is difficult to carry out large-scale mechanical operations, and it is very difficult to rescue on site."
Survivor Recounts Moment Disaster Struck Quiet Mountain Villages
A resident named Gu witnessed the horror up close, recounting the moment "the mountain just collapsed" on broadcaster Guizhou TV. He had risen early, only to see a cascade of mud and rock tumble down the cliffside toward his sleepy village below.
"Everything happened so fast - one minute all was silent, the next, homes were buried as the landslide crashed down without warning," said Gu. The avalanche of stone and soil swallowed building after building, a crisis unprecedented in scope. "Dozens were buried alive, including four of my relatives asleep in their beds," Gu recalled, grief-stricken at the scale.
The landslide struck so abruptly that residents had no time to evacuate. Buildings housing 18 families were damaged or destroyed instantly, as the mountainside gave way at 5:51 am along a 1.5-kilometer stretch. With whole communities engulfed in minutes, over 500 area residents would require emergency evacuation in the coming days due to safety concerns.
In the immediate aftermath, first responders dug out two survivors and rushed them to hospital with injuries. But accessing the remote disaster zone proved extremely difficult, officials confirmed. With frigid winter weather setting in and mountainous terrain hampering rescue vehicles, crews faced grim obstacles from the start.
It quickly became apparent that most people and buildings in the direct path had little chance, swallowed by the rock and earth bursting forth. "The scene was utter devastation - piles of rubble burying everything in its path," Gu recalled. "Our quiet little village transformed instantly into a disaster zone that day."
At a press conference, officials indicated the landslide occurred right at sunrise, cascading down from a cliff area atop the mountain slope overlooking the doomed villages below. They pledged major evacuation efforts and emergency resources for rescuers and survivors impacted by the shocking tragedy.