By Maude Fröberg, IFRC

Heavy rains in southern China have caused severe floods and landslides, with hundreds of people missing and many homes damaged or ruined. Over 7.3 million people are affected prompting Red Cross Society of China to launch an emergency operation in affected areas.

 In southwestern Sichuan province, a massive landslide inundated the mountain village of Xinmo early on Saturday morning. When dawn broke, 120 people were missing and debris had swamped over 60 homes.

The landslide blocked a 2km stretch of the river and 1.6 km of road. Survivors described a strange sound as the earth started to shake. Then stones, water and mud came crashing into their homes.

Two Emergency Response Teams from Red Cross were rapidly deployed to complement the rescue operation by local authorities. More than 1,000 people from civil, military and medical sector have been mobilized, but the search and rescue operation is severely hampered by mounds of mud and large boulders, which needs to be delicately cleared before homes can be searched.

Gwen Pang, Head of the IFRC Country Cluster Team in Beijing, said the disaster was sudden and shocking. “The most important task right now is to continue searching for survivors until all possibilities are exhausted,” she said. “The Red Cross Society of China is supporting survivors with basic relief items such as family kits, blankets, clothes, shoes, jackets and tents.”

The non-food relief items were quickly dispatched from the nearby warehouse in Sichuan.

“We must continue to stand behind the people affected by disasters like this tragic landslide in Xinmo village. The quick response by Red Cross shows the necessity of preparedness,” Pang said. “Prepositioning of relief goods, for example, is crucial when disasters strike and can truly make a difference for people in need of humanitarian assistance.”

Heavy rain is expected across the country in the next coming days. The risk for more floods and landslide remains high.

Story updated on 26 June 2017 to correct number of people affected