09/12/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Taoshi disaster: in China, thousands of "illegal and dangerous" mining waste reservoirs

The reservoir was only 100 meters above the homes. Hopes of finding the hundreds of missing alive beneath the mud "almost zero". Popular indignation growing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - 151 have been confirmed to have died under the avalanche of mud, three stories high, that submerged the village of Yunhe in the little city of Taoshi (Shanxi), but hopes for finding the hundreds of people missing "are almost zero" after "they have been buried for three days under two meters of slush", workplace safety minister Wang Jun admitted yesterday.

More than 160 bulldozers and about 3,000 men are searching around the clock in the mud that submerged entire houses (in the photo). Torrential rain caused a landslide that also brought down an unauthorized iron mining waste reservoir, held back by a wall that collapsed, just 100 meters above the first homes. The victims, who were mining workers, were migrants from the countryside, and it is difficult to know their exact number.

Now the state council has set up an investigatory group, and 13 people have been imprisoned, including the owner and supervisors of the mine. But the controversy is growing, because the danger had been signaled repeatedly for years. The authorities have admitted that over half of the more than 9,000 mining waste reservoirs in the country are illegal and dangerous. The newspapers are reporting the dramatic testimonies of the survivors, while blogs are posting critical messages on the latest in a series of "predictable disasters". The authorities of Shanxi have promised 200,000 yuan (about 20,000 euros) in compensation for each victim, higher than the usual minimal damages paid.

China's mines are the most dangerous in the world, and in 2007, according to semi-official data, there were at least 6,000 deaths (private estimates double that figure). The high price for coal is inducing many owners to raise production, while overlooking security. After serious disasters in recent years, Beijing has launched a zero-tolerance campaign, but it has not succeeded in resolving the problem, partly because of the  connivance between mine owners and local authorities.

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