A massive landslide struck a village in China’s southwestern Yunnan province on January 22nd, leaving at least 20 dead and 24 still missing as of January 23rd. Rescuers are racing against time and freezing temperatures to find any additional survivors buried under thick mud and rubble.
The Tragedy Unfolds
According to state media reports, the landslide hit a village in Zhenxiong county at around 6 a.m. local time on January 22nd. A mountainside collapsed, sending mud and rocks hurtling into the village and burying homes under an estimated 3 million cubic meters of debris.
At least 20 people have been confirmed dead so far, while over 300 rescuers search desperately for the 24 still missing as of Monday. State media has reported that the missing include a child, raising fears that entire families may have been wiped out.
Two survivors were rescued from the rubble on Monday, found “in good spirits” despite having been trapped for over 36 hours. They were sent to a local hospital.
Rescue Efforts Hampered by Bad Weather
Rescuers are facing severe challenges as they pick painstakingly through the rubble in search of any other survivors.
Freezing winter temperatures averaging around minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) have sent thick ice coursing through the debris, making excavation extremely difficult. Meanwhile, heavy smog and winds are frustrating aerial search attempts.
“The freezing temperature has posed great challenges to our rescue efforts – it’s difficult for big machines and equipment to reach the site,” explained Chen Fei, a local official helping coordinate the search.
Rescuers are using life detection equipment, drones with thermal cameras, excavators and rescue dogs in their desperate search.
So far, over 2,800 local Communist Party members have joined the challenging rescue work alongside professionals. Locals were seen voluntarily cooking meals and distributing blankets to aid rescuers. Authorities also sent over 500 tents and 2,000 sets of folding beds to the area.
What Led to This Tragedy?
While the cause is still under investigation, authorities believe recent mild earthquakes and heavy rainfall led to mountain slope instability, causing the deadly collapse. The region sees frequent seismic activity and landslides due to its mountainous terrain.
Yunnan province in particular suffered a devastating 6.1-magnitude earthquake last September, which damaged infrastructure and buildings across the region. This likely left mountain slopes even more vulnerable.
Meanwhile, data from China’s National Climate Center shows that rainfall in Yunnan has been double the annual average since last August. The heavy rains have increased risks of flooding and landslides.
Tragically, locals say they had noticed growing cracks in the mountain before it came crashing down. But authorities allegedly failed to act before disaster struck.
What Happens Next?
Rescue efforts are expected to continue for several more days, but chances of finding additional survivors grow slimmer as time passes.
Meanwhile, authorities face tough questions over why preventative measures weren’t taken despite locals raising warning signs over the unstable mountain slope.
Meteorologists predict heavy rain will continue lashing Yunnan over the coming week, raising risks of additional landslides. Officials are surveying the surrounding region for other signs of instability.
For survivors of the tragedy, the long road of rebuilding lies ahead. The government has promised financial aid for families impacted, but entire communities face devastation with homes, property and livelihoods destroyed.
As Yunnan continues grappling with the aftermath of September’s earthquake, this landslide only compounds the suffering of locals already impacted by disaster. Authorities must now balance continued rescue efforts with protecting other villages from potential landslides as the rainy season persists.
This tragedy highlights the immense challenges communities in landslide-prone regions face from increasing extreme weather and seismic activity. As climate change leads to heavier rainfall and rising instability, such devastating landslides may sadly grow more common unless preventative action is taken. For now, Yunnan continues mourning the loss of life while rescuers cling to hopes of defying the odds to find buried survivors.
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