KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Landslides triggered by torrential rain in Nepal swept through two villages on Thursday killing at least 20 people, the home ministry said.

The landslides struck the villages near the resort town of Pokhara, 125 km (77 miles) west of Kathmandu shortly after midnight. At least 22 houses were destroyed, said ministry spokesman Laxmi Dhakal.

Krishna Bahadur Raut, a government official in the area, told Reuters about a dozen people were missing.

Two powerful earthquakes in Nepal this year that killed almost 9,000 people are believed to made slopes across the mountainous country unstable and raised the risk of landslides during the rainy season, which lasts from June to September.

Soldiers and policemen officials were working in heavy rain using shovels and bare hands to search for villagers, most of whom were in their beds when the landslide struck.

The government has asked for mechanical diggers and other heavy equipment to help with the search, but their arrival from Pokhara has been held up landslides on the roads.

Despite years of preparation for earthquakes, the government had been slow to map landslide-prone areas.