Rescuers hammered at debris today searching for survivors buried under sludge in northern China after a landslide that has killed at least 128 people, but hopes of finding anybody alive were fading.
The landslide that ploughed into buildings on Monday in a valley in Shanxi province’s Xiangfen county also injured 35 others and trapped an unknown number of people under the rubble, local officials said.
A low-rise office building, a market and some houses were knocked down by the rapid surge of mud and mining waste, which formed a wall measuring three stories high and 660 yards wide, according to media reports.
State-run media had initially reported that there were hundreds of people missing, but later cited authorities as saying the figure could not be determined while an investigation was continuing.
The death toll rose to 128 today, state broadcaster China Central Television said.
The official Xinhua News Agency cited local government official Lian Zhendong as saying rescuers had searched through 70% of the rubble. But local officials said today they feared the chances of survival were slim.
“There were survivors on the first day and on the second day, but from day three, it’s very likely that anyone we find in the future will be dead already,” said a woman surnamed Dong who heads the propaganda department of Xiangfen county.
Ms Dong told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that more than 2,000 police, firefighters and villagers were mobilised in the search, but conditions were difficult.
“There is mud everywhere,” said Dong, who was speaking from the site where excavators and front loaders were lifting earth and debris. “It is very hard for the machines to drive through the mud.”
Also hampering rescue efforts were the rough terrain, poor telecommunications and heavy rainfall, which stopped only today, Ms Dong said. Like many Chinese officials, she refused to give her full name.
The accident highlights two major public safety concerns in China: the failure to enforce protective measures in the country’s notoriously deadly mines, and the unsound state of many of its bridges, dams and other ageing infrastructure.
A preliminary investigation showed that the landslide was caused by the collapse of a dam used as a retaining wall, said Wang Dexue, deputy head of the State Administration of Work Safety.
“It is an illegal company that was using the abandoned dump to get rid of its production waste,” Mr Wang said in an interview broadcast on state television.
Heavy rains caused the already overloaded dump to breach, Mr Wang said.
Xinhua said several officials, including the local head of the work safety administration, the village party secretary and village chief have already been sacked for negligence.