BEIJING - The bodies of all 18 schoolchildren buried under a landslide in China have been recovered, officials said Friday, as authorities defended returning them to school following recent deadly earthquakes. The landslip, triggered by sustained rains, buried the school and three farmhouses on Thursday in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, where a pair of earthquakes last month killed 81 people and injured hundreds. Any last hopes for survivors among the children in Zhenhe village, where the landslide struck, evaporated early Friday when local officials said rescuers had pulled the body of the last missing child from the debris.

The disaster is likely to raise questions over why the pupils had been brought back into the school, located in a deep mountain valley, when China was on a week-long national holiday. School safety is a sensitive issue in China after thousands of students died when an 8.0-magnitude tremor centred in Sichuan province rocked the southwest of the country in 2008. China has a highly competitive education system built around cramming for high-stress testing that determines entry into good schools later. Local officials in Yiliang county, which includes Zhenhe, have said the dead children needed to make up lessons lost due to disruptions stemming from the September earthquakes in the area. The state-run Xinhua news agency said they had been brought in to study from another school which was badly damaged in those tremors, which had magnitudes of 5.6 and left more than 800 people injured and 201,000 displaced.