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Rains caused deadly China landslide: media

BEIJING -- Persistent rain was the primary cause of a mudslide that killed 18 elementary students and one villager in southwestern China, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.

All 18 elementary school students buried in a landslide were confirmed dead Friday, while one other person also died after a hillside collapsed and smothered part of a village in mountainous southwestern China.

Xinhua said that it had rained continuously in the region since Sept. 1 and that when the mudslide occurred, the accumulated precipitation was more than 297 millimeters (11.7 inches), three times the normal level from previous years.

The hillside used for farming was steeply sloped and had loose soil saturated with rainwater, which triggered the mudslide, said Xinhua, quoting experts from an ad-hoc investigative group.

The Tiantou Elementary School was buried Thursday when the hillside collapsed in Zhenhe, a village in Yunnan province, the Yiliang County government said on its website.

All 18 students who were buried in the school were confirmed dead, the government said. The official Xinhua News Agency said the body of a 19th victim was found Friday. It gave no details, but the county government said earlier that a person was missing from a house that had collapsed.

The government also said that a person injured in the landslide was hospitalized.

The landslide blocked a river, causing its water to pool 15 meters (45 feet) across and 7 meters (21 feet) deep around the buried area, hampering rescue efforts and forcing the evacuation of 800 other people, the government said. Rescue teams removed the blockage and the water was subsiding.

A series of quakes last month left 81 people dead and devastated parts of Yiliang County, which are still recovering.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Yiliang shortly after the quakes in September and made a second trip there on Friday, when he visited some victims' families and offered condolences, Xinhua said.

Local authorities have released names of the 18 students, and state media have distributed the full list.

Thursday was a holiday across China, but the students who were killed had been attending school to make up for days missed after the quake, Yiliang officials said. Xinhua said their school was damaged in the quake and they were sent to Tiantou temporarily.

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