Over 140 people are feared to be buried alive in a landslide in the Sichuan province of south-western China. Emergency response operations have been started to search for the missing.

President Xi Jinping has ordered "all-out-efforts" to save those buried, a tweet from China's People's Daily said.

Reports say that over 500 rescuers are currently working at the scene and have rescued a family of three – who were pulled alive from the rubble.

They have been rushed to the Mao's County People's Hospital for treatment, the Mao County government said on its official Weibo page.

The disaster occurred in the early hours of Saturday at around 6am local time (22:00 GMT Friday) when the side of a mountain collapsed. Nearly 40 homes are believed to have been destroyed in the tragedy.

According to local reports, the landslide was the result of recent heavy rains in the area. Lack of vegetation in the region likely made the situation worse.

A local rescue official Wang Yongbo was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster CCTV that estimated 3m cubic meters (105 million cubic feet) of earth and rock, equal to more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, had skated down the mountain due to the disaster.

Landslides are a common occurrence in mountainous regions of China, especially during heavy rains.

In September 2016, a whole village was engulfed by a landslide following a typhoon. Around 27 people were reported missing after rain-saturated hillsides collapsed onto Sucun village in China's Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, on 28 September 2016.

China landslide
Nearly 40 homes have been destroyed, after the side of a mountain collapsed on Saturday morning - File photo REUTERS/Stringer