Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Heavy rains have forced the suspension of rescue efforts to save people buried under 12 million cubic meters of earth beneath Mount Jiwei, south east Chongqing. The massive landslide on June 5th swept away houses and blocked the entrance to the local iron-mine. Residents, on recovering from the initial shock, say the disaster is the direct result of a lack of respect for basic safety guidelines by the mine owners.
Pick axes and shovels are being used to dig for survivors, because heavy machinery cannot work on unstable land. So far 7 bodies of the 45 people ‘missing’ under the earth have been recovered. Rescue teams simulated 5 explosions to free earth from the entrance to the mine, where 27 miners are trapped. There are hopes of reaching them alive, because of water ducts within the mine. But China Central Television says that heavy rains have forced a halt to the rescuer efforts for today, for fear of other landslides.
Friends and relatives of those still buried, residents in Hongbao village have told the press and television that the tragedy could have been avoided and is a direct result of a lack of respect for basic mining safety guidelines and over exploitation. They add that the risk of landslides has been known since 2004, when masses fell from the mountain into the valley, after which the Tiekuang government offices, local school and circa 70 residencies were moved. But 40 of those people buried by the landslide decided to stay in the area, after local officials assured them that there were no problems.
Chen Ming, who lost his father and mother in the collapse, tells the South China Morning Post that the mine was dated in concept having been opened before the revolution in 1949 and that it belonged to the state. In 2000, the mine was closed after being labelled dangerous by an official geological survey team, but “the mine abruptly resumed its operation under Su Xianyong , a private boss, three years afterwards”. He adds that “a geological accident had rarely been seen in my village until 2004, a year after the restart of the mine exploitation”.
Chen and fellow villagers are angered at television reports that for call the deadly landslide a natural disaster: “it wasn’t a natural disaster; human error is the only thing to blame for the tragedy”.
Su has been arrested in the aftermath of the disaster. Authorities have so far refrained from speaking of the cause of the collapse, even if some state agencies report statements that speak of a natural disaster. Chinese mines are the most dangerous in the world and every year cause of thousands of deaths in accidents which are often avoidable if safety procedures are respected. But the nation is hunger for metals and coal and many local industrialists overlook elementary safety precautions. A few years ago, Beijing took local governments to task over their economic interest in local industries, after repeated charges of a lack of official controls of security and safety measures.