Nearly 2,000 rescue workers and members of support teams had converged on Xinmo by Saturday afternoon, news reports said. Initially there were heartening bulletins of a survivor who yelled from under the debris and another who answered a telephone call.
But as night came, the rescuers had little good news to share. The woman who answered the call appeared to have died, said Sichuan Online, a provincial news service. By late in the day, officials said that searchers had found 15 bodies, and estimated that 118 people were missing.
âThe chances of surviving being buried by a high-mountain collapse are very slim,â Xinhua stated, citing a geologist who was helping the rescuers. âThe area for rescue work is narrow, and it will be difficult to expand rescue forces to a large scale.â
Fearful of setting off another landslide, the rescuers could not dig deeply over a large area, Xinhua said. They also had a hard time moving the boulders that had crashed down onto the village.
A family of three escaped the worst of the disaster after an infant in the home woke up crying shortly before the landslide hit. The childâs father, Qiao Dashuai, said he got up to comfort the infant and realized there was a landslide coming down.
âHe pulled up his wife, carried the child, and as they were running, they were tossed around by a massive roar of air, became caught in the mud and rocks and then fought their way out of danger,â China Central Television news reported, citing Mr. Qiao. The three were recovering in hospital, the broadcaster said.
An expert at the site said the landslide might have been caused by a buildup of rainfall under the surface of the steep hillside, apparently acting as a kind of lubricant that let a slab of earth slide down, a reporter for the newspaper Peopleâs Daily said.
In a statement, President Xi Jinping ordered the rescue efforts to continue at full intensity, and he told other areas of the country to be on guard for signs of danger during the rainy season.
Initial Chinese news reports contained no suggestion that officials had been warned that the steep, thinly vegetated hillside could collapse. But the region has been rife with landslides and other geological hazards, and officials may be questioned about whether more could have been done to protect or move villagers.
An enormous earthquake in 2008 rippled across much of Sichuan Province and nearby areas, leaving about 90,000 people dead or missing and presumed dead. And in 1933, an earthquake in Mao County killed nearly 10,000 people, according to Chinese news reports.
The county government has issued repeated warnings in documents about the continued risks from landslides, and it has been involved in a program to identify areas at greatest risk. A county government directive issued late last year counted 769 places across the county vulnerable to landslides and similar hazards.
âMao County is a geologically hazardous area of Sichuan Province,â the directive said. âEarthquakes and heavy rain in recent years have exacerbated the level of geological hazards in our county.â
The Paper, a news website based in Shanghai, reported that the village of Xinmo had been listed in 2016 as vulnerable to geological hazards.
But Mr. Deng, the villager who lived near Xinmo, said he could not recall any government warnings about landslides in the area.