Nearly 3,000 rescue workers were racing against time on Monday to search for dozens of people missing after Sunday's landslide at an industrial park in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
At around 6 am Tuesday, the first body was recovered from the landslide site, Xinhua News Agency cited rescue headquarters as saying.
By early morning Tuesday, the number of missing in the disaster in Guangming New District was reduced to 81 from 85, Shenzhen Special Zone Daily cited government officials as saying.
Trucks and excavators were working at the scene, while many of those affected waited some distance away, hoping to return to their homes to retrieve some valuables if they had not been destroyed.
The industrial park has been sealed off, leaving the remaining factory buildings and shops almost empty, except for some firefighters and other rescue workers, who were resting after spending nearly the whole night on rescue work.
Liu Guonan, a geotechnical expert at the China Academy of Railway Sciences, said the landslide was the largest he had seen, adding, "The mud is deep, making it difficult for workers and vehicles to get through."
Rescue work was continuing at six sites simultaneously. Signs of survivors had been detected at one site, said Lai Xiaolian, deputy chief of the Shenzhen Firefighting Department Command.
Lai said the rescue work is very difficult because the disaster involves "more than a landslide", being a mix of mudflows, landslides and collapsed buildings.
Survivors have been settled in temporary shelters, including a gym, where more than 100 workers from a factory in the industrial park were housed.
One worker recalled the moment on Sunday when the landslide hit. "Suddenly, the lights in our factory went out, and we all ran out to see what had happened", he said. "We saw the landslide. ... It had engulfed power lines, and there was also red smoke."
Gao Zhen, deputy general manager of one of the factories, said all his workers fled to safety unharmed. The factory manufactures automatic industrial equipment, including robots. Gao said the hill where the landslide occurred had become a dump site for waste soil. "Earth was piled up on the hill without any reinforcement measures," he said.
He said production at many factories had been in full swing as Spring Festival approaches in February.
The landslide covered an area of 380,000 square meters with earth 10 meters deep, authorities said.
Seven trapped people had been rescued, the Shenzhen government said. At least 16 people were hospitalised, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The State Council has sent a team of senior officials and experts to Shenzhen to oversee rescue work. State Councilor Wang Yong is leading the team.
Xinhua contributed to this story.