Fears are growing for a woman in central China who was apparently swallowed by a sinkhole while she was sleeping in her bed, local media reported.

The woman’s husband discovered his wife missing when he went to check on her on Saturday morning, the Hunan province-based news portal Voc.com.cn reported.

When he entered the room he found a three-square-metre hole in the floor and his wife, 45-year-old Chen Jiaoyang, gone, the report said.

The couple lives in Shizhuling, a village in the city of Lianyuan, which had been hard hit by heavy rains over the previous two days.

Rescue teams launched a search for the missing woman – digging to a depth of 15 metres – but the work had to be called off when conditions became too dangerous. Their excavations in the sodden ground even led to the partial collapse of another property, the report said.

Rescue workers also used life detection equipment in a bid to find the missing woman, but to no avail, it said.

An expert was quoted as saying that the collapses were due to the fact that the houses were built on top of a network of caves and underground waterways.

The township government later said that they were too dangerous to live in.

The husband, who was not named, said that he heard a loud bang early on Saturday morning but assumed it was a tree falling due to the rain.

While his wife’s bed had not been swallowed by the gaping hole, a refrigerator and electric fan were missing from the room, the report said.

It added that the couple’s 13-year-old daughter had not been at home at the time of the incident and was unhurt.