Fears were growing last night for 141 people missing in China after a landslide buried their mountain village in southwestern Sichuan province, with reports claiming only three survivors had been pulled out of the mud and rock hours after the calamity struck.

The landslide swept over 46 homes as dawn broke yesterday in Xinmo village in Maoxian County, a remote mountainous area of north Sichuan close to the region of Tibet, according to the official Xinhua state news agency.

President Xi Jinping urged on the rescue effort, but state broadcaster CCTV reported that by midday the only people rescued were a couple and their 2-month-old baby.

Xinhua said the estimated number of missing was provided by local authorities.

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The landslide blocked a 2km stretch of a nearby river and 1.6km stretch of road, according to Xinhua.

Wang Yongbo, a local rescue official, said an estimated 3 million cubic metres of earth and rock - equivalent to more than 1000 Olympic-sized swimming pools - had slid down the mountain.

State television reports showed villagers and rescuers scrambling over mounds of mud and rocks that had slid down the mountainside.

Pictures posted by the People's Daily newspaper showed bulldozers moving earth and large boulders.

Xinhua said there were 400 people involved in the rescue effort and six ambulances were at the scene, with more on the way.

The television images showed water thick with mud flowing over the site, submerging a car pushed from the road, while police and residents pulled on ropes to try to dislodge large boulders.

Emergency personnel and locals work at the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Maoxian County in southwestern China's Sichuan Province. Photo / AP
Emergency personnel and locals work at the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Maoxian County in southwestern China's Sichuan Province. Photo / AP

Police have closed roads in the county to all traffic except emergency services.

There is an extensive network of dams in the region, including two hydropower plants in Diexi town near the buried village.

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A researcher from the Chengdu Chinese Academy of Social Science, a state-backed thinktank, told China Radio International that heavy rainfall probably caused the slide.

The researcher, whose name wasn't given, also warned of the risk that a dam could collapse, endangering communities further downstream.

The area is prone to earthquakes. A quake in 1933 resulted in parts of Diexi town becoming submerged by a nearby lake, and an 8.0 magnitude tremor in central Sichuan's Wenchuan county in 2008 killed nearly 70,000 people.