BEIJING: Rescue workers are frantically digging and blasting through landslide debris in southwest China on Sunday, hoping to locate scores of people believed trapped under tonnes of rock, the government said.
The official toll remained 72 missing, with only one body recovered so far, Chongqing municipal spokesman Ai Yang said of the Friday landslide that buried several homes and an iron ore mine in the mountainous region.
"We still are holding out hope for those miners trapped underground, but there are only faint hopes for those buried under rubble," government spokesman Ai Yang said.
"Although so many were buried at ground level, life-monitoring sensors have not found any signs of life. As long as there are only slim hopes, we will make every effort both at ground level and underground to save survivors.
The government Saturday said 72 people were missing in the avalanche, while state radio said Saturday 26 people were confirmed dead.
Ai did not explain the discrepancy in the toll numbers.
Sunday's rescue efforts focused on the iron ore mine where 27 miners were working when up to 12 million cubic metres (420 million cubic feet) of boulders and rock crashed down from Wulong mountain, he said.
"Rescuing the trapped miners will remain the focus of operations," Ai said, according to transcripts of the news conference posted on a Chongqing government website.
With homes also buried, there were fears the rescue work might be slowed by rains that are forecast over the next several days, state radio said.
The massive slide also dammed up the Wujiang river, leading to fears that rising waters on an landslide-formed lake would lead to a burst of the dam, flooding communities below, it added.
An investigation has begun into the cause of the disaster, which also cut power lines and communications in several areas.
Up to 1,500 soldiers, police, firemen and volunteers with dogs and large earth moving equipment were scouring the rock, mud and debris for survivors, the Voice of China radio station said.
Experts were trying to blast away the boulders to get to the mine and were also planning to drill a 40-metre (132-foot) hole to pipe in air, water and food to the trapped miners.
Later Sunday, a helicopter was brought in to airlift heavy machinery into the area as roads into the mountainous areas were blocked due to the rock fall, the China News Service reported.
In September last year, at least 277 people were killed in a landslide in the northern province of Shanxi when a reservoir holding mine waste collapsed.
Government investigations found the collapse at the unlicensed mine was due to negligence and 113 people were punished in connection with the disaster, state media reported in April.
China's mining industry is one of the most dangerous in the world.
Official figures show that more than 3,200 workers died in China's notoriously dangerous coal mines last year, but independent observers say the actual figure could be much higher, as many accidents are covered up.