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Death toll in southwestern China landslide rises to 31 while more remain missing

BEIJING (AP) — Authorities raised the confirmed death toll to 31 on Tuesday in a landslide in a remote, mountainous part of China's southwestern province of Yunnan, Chinese state media reported.

The disaster struck just before 6 a.m. on Monday in the village of Liangshui in the northeastern part of Yunnan.

Authorities said earlier Tuesday that a total of 44 people were either missing or had been found dead.

Search and rescue operations resumed after being suspended earlier in the day due to another landslide alert.

More than 1,000 rescuers were working amid freezing temperatures, with the help of excavators, drones and rescue dogs, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management. Two survivors were found Monday and were recovering at a local hospital.

State news agency Xinhua, citing a preliminary investigation by local experts, said the landslide was triggered by the collapse of a steep clifftop area, with the collapsed mass measuring around 100 meters (330 feet) wide, 60 meters (200 feet) in height, and an average of 6 meters (20 feet) in thickness. It did not elaborate on what caused the initial collapse.

Aerial photos posted by Xinhua showed the side of a heavily terraced mountain had spilled over several village homes. More than 900 villagers were relocated.

Zhenxiong county lies about 2,250 kilometers (1,400 miles) southwest of Beijing, with altitudes ranging as high as 2,400 meters (7,900 feet).

Rescuers struggled with snow, icy roads and freezing temperatures that were forecast to persist for at least the next three days.

Heavy snow has been falling in many parts of China, causing transportation chaos and endangering lives.

Last week, rescuers evacuated tourists from a remote skiing area in northwestern China where dozens of avalanches triggered by heavy snow had trapped more than 1,000 people for a week. The avalanches blocked roads, stranding both tourists and residents in a village in Altay prefecture in the Xinjiang region, close to China’s border with Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan.

Landslides, often caused by rain or unsafe construction work, are not uncommon in China. At least 70 people were killed in landslides last year, including more than 50 at an open-pit mine in the Inner Mongolia region.

In all, natural disasters in China left 691 people dead and missing last year, causing direct economic losses of about 345 billion yuan ($48 billion, according to the National Commission for Disaster Reduction and the Ministry of Emergency Management. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Natural Resources implemented emergency response measures for geological disasters and sent a work team of experts to the site.

Also on Tuesday, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck a sparsely populated part of China’s western Xinjiang region, causing extensive damage but injuring just six people in freezing cold weather, authorities said. The tremors were felt hundreds of kilometers away. The quake was the latest in a series of seismic events and natural disasters to hit the country’s western regions.

Only last month, China's deadliest earthquake in years struck the northwest in a remote region between Gansu and Qinghai provinces. At least 149 people were killed in the magnitude 6.2 temblor that struck on Dec. 18, reducing homes to rubble and triggering heavy mudslides that inundated two villages in Qinghai province. Nearly 1,000 people were injured and more than 14,000 homes were destroyed.