BEIJING: Hopes were fast fading that Chinese rescuers — many using their bare hands — would find survivors two days after a huge landslide crashed down a remote Tibetan mountain, burying scores of mine workers.
A total of 82 miners remain trapped after one body was found Saturday, almost 36 hours after the massive landslide buried the workers under two million cubic metres of earth.
Around 3,500 rescuers were searching for survivors and 300 pieces of large machinery had been mobilised, state media reported early Sunday, with many workers said to be digging with just their hands while battling snow and altitude sickness.
The disaster struck when a huge section of land tumbled onto a mine workers’ camp in Maizhokunggar county, east of the Tibetan capital Lhasa, at 6:00 am on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday). The first body was found at 5.35 pm Saturday.
“The rescuers are conducting an inch-by-inch search, but they still cannot locate the missing miners,” said Wu Yingjie, deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China, the official Xinhua news agency reported Sunday.
Wu said that, given the scale of the disaster, the miners’ survival chances were slim.
Xinhua, citing its reporters, said that many workers were digging with their “bare hands” because damage to narrow local roads had kept much of the large-scale rescue machinery from getting to the site.
The chance of further landslides heightened safety concerns after cracks were reported on the mountain and others nearby.
Wu said that that a crack, measuring one metre wide and 15 metres long, had formed at the top of the mountain.
“The two rescue priorities for now are searching for the buried and preventing subsequent disasters,” Wu said.
Teams using sniffer dogs and radar combed the mountainside Saturday, battling bad weather, altitude sickness and further landslides. The disaster zone is located 4,600 metres (15,000 feet) above sea level.
Mountainous regions of Tibet are prone to landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy mining activity.
The victims worked for a subsidiary of the China National Gold Group Corporation (CNGC), a state-owned company and the nation’s biggest gold miner by output.
According to the Chinese government, the mine produces copper as well as other metals.
Almost all those buried 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.
One of the trapped workers, 19-year-old He Yuan from Guizhou, recently went to the mine to earn money to support his family, including his sick father, and planned to marry his girlfriend when he turned 22, Xinhua reported.
“He Yuan is the only son of my sister,” Xinhua quoted one of his uncles, Yuan Song, as saying. “How can she survive without him?”
China’s new president Xi Jinping, who returned Sunday from visiting Russia and Africa, and new premier Li Keqiang had ordered “top efforts” to rescue the victims.
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.
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.