Thirty-one people, including four children, on a bus that was engulfed by a massive landslide in central China early this week are almost certainly dead, a local official said Friday.

The passengers were on the bus in mountainous Badong county, Hubei province, on Tuesday when the landslide occurred and are feared to have all died, Xinhua news agency said, citing local officials and the bus company.

"What we're telling the press is there's a slim chance (of the 31 surviving), but from what we've seen on the site, they are probably all dead," a Badong county spokesman surnamed Zeng told AFP by telephone.

"Basically, there's no chance of any survivors."

Rescuers pulled out the first body from the bus Friday afternoon although their identity has not yet been confirmed, Xinhua said.

The four children trapped include a four-month-old baby, it said.

Photos suggest that half of the mountainside collapsed onto the motorway at the time that the bus passed by.

Rescuers cleared away enough rubble to reach the front of the bus by early Friday morning but there were no signs of life, Xinhua said, adding the missing had not yet been officially confirmed dead.

The landslide had killed one worker and left two others missing who were helping to build a railway tunnel about 30 metres (100 feet) away, a tragedy that had already been reported this week.

Rescuers started searching for the bus after the transport company reported it missing on Wednesday, according to a local official cited by Xinhua.

The area had seen days of heavy rain leading up the landslide, Xinhua said in an earlier report that added landslides were common in Badong county, through which the Yangtze river runs.

Poor engineering is also known to play a role in many landslides in China, particularly when mountainsides are crudely blasted away so that roads and railways can be built.