Some 24 people remain missing after the disaster which struck Liangshui village at around 6am, burying 18 homes. Two others were injured, and about 500 people had to be evacuated from the area.
State news agency Xinhua, citing a preliminary investigation by local experts, said the landslide was triggered by the collapse of a steep cliff-top area, with the collapsed mass measuring around 100m wide, 60m in height, and about an average of 6m in thickness. It did not elaborate on what caused the initial collapse.
Rescuers struggled with snow, icy roads, and freezing temperatures that were forecast to persist for at least the next three days. More than 300 rescue workers were deployed along with 50 emergency units to locate the missing, reported South China Morning Post. President Xi Jinping also assigned Chinese vice premier Zhang Guoqing to lead the rescue efforts.
“[We should] promptly organise rescue teams, make all-out efforts to search for missing individuals, and minimise casualties to the greatest extent possible,” Mr Xi said, according to Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
The country has allocated disaster relief funds of RMB50m (£5.5m), reported Xinhua, citing China’s ministry of emergency management.
"The mountain just collapsed, dozens were buried," a man surnamed Gu, who witnessed the landslide, told the state-owned TV station for the neighbouring province of Guizhou. Mr Gu said four of his relatives were buried under the rubble.
"They were all sleeping in their homes," he said.
Luo Dongmei, 35, was sleeping when the landslide struck, but she survived and was relocated to a school building by local authorities.
"I was asleep, but my brother knocked on the door and woke me up. They said there was a landslide and the bed was shaking, so they rushed upstairs and woke us up," Ms Luo said.
Ms Luo, her husband and their three children, along with many other residents, have been provided with food at the school but are still waiting for blankets and other protection from the cold weather, she said.
Luo said she’s been unable to contact her sister and aunt, who lived closer to the site of the landslide. "The only thing I can do is to wait," she said.
Firefighters were climbing through the rubble searching for survivors in light snow, CCTV reported.
Zhengxiong county lies about 2,250km southwest of Beijing, with altitudes ranging as high as 2,400m. Heavy snow has been falling in many parts of China, causing transportation chaos and endangering lives. Yunnan is among several provinces in the country’s southern region currently experiencing bitterly cold temperatures, according to the National Meteorological Centre.
Additional reporting by agencies