BEIJING: Rescue teams found the first body Saturday almost 36 hours after a giant landslide in Tibet buried 83 mine workers under two million cubic metres of earth, China’s state media reported.
Xinhua news agency said rescuers “found the first body at 5.35 pm”, after a huge section of land buried a copper mine workers’ camp in Maizhokunggar county, east of the Tibetan capital Lhasa, at 6:00 am on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday).
The report came after officials said at a press conference at 10.O0 am Saturday that a massive search and rescue operation had failed to locate any survivors or bodies up to that point.
A rescue worker had also described the chance of survivors being found as “slim”, Xinhua said, as teams using sniffer dogs and radar combed the mountainside in a hunt for survivors that was hampered by bad weather, altitude sickness and further landslides.
Meanwhile, an emergency response team attempted to prevent a secondary disaster.
The Tibetan landslide came on the same day as a gas blast in a northeast China coal mine killed 28 people. State media said 13 others were rescued after the accident at Babao Coal Mine in the city of Baishan in Jilin province.
State-run China National Television (CNTV) said on its news website that “rescue workers have established three defensive lines” around the landslide disaster zone to prevent “secondary disasters”, without giving details.
It also said that some of the 2,000-strong rescue team had set up temporary accommodation half-way up the mountain as a safety measure against further landslides. The disaster zone is located 4,600 metres (15,000 feet) above sea level.
The Xinhua report quoted a rescue worker saying there were cracks along nearby mountains, which indicated further landslides were possible.
It also said that rescuers had been suffering from slight altitude sickness and that “further minor landslides” had hampered their efforts.
“Temperatures as low as minus three degrees Celsius have also affected the sniffer dogs’ senses of smell,” the report added.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) Saturday showed dozens of bulldozers shifting earth as others headed to the disaster area in Tibet.
The Tencent news website said 15 dog teams and 15 teams using radar monitoring equipment were accompanying 200 bulldozers and heavy lifting vehicles.
The victims of the disaster worked for a subsidiary of the China National Gold Group Corporation (CNGG), a state-owned company and the nation’s biggest gold miner by output.
Almost all of them were Han Chinese, the national ethnic majority, with only two ethnic Tibetans, Xinhua said. Most were migrant workers from the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan.
China’s new president Xi Jinping, who is currently visiting the Republic of Congo in Africa, and new premier Li Keqiang had ordered “top efforts” to rescue the victims, Xinhua added.
Mountainous regions of Tibet are prone to landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy mining activity.
In recent years China has discovered huge mineral resources in Tibet, including tens of millions of tonnes of copper, lead and zinc, and billions of tonnes of iron ore, according to state media reports.
CNGG could not be reached by AFP on Saturday. An official from Maizhokunggar county said all of her colleagues were at the scene, but could not be reached for updates.
More than 300,000 cubic metres of debris had been removed by noon Saturday, officials told Xinhua.