09/11/2008, 00.00
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Taoshi landslide: hundreds dead, mine owner and government accused

128 have been confirmed dead, but hundreds more are "missing". Bulldozers and 2,000 men are looking for the survivors, with little hope. Residents say "it is a man-made disaster". Arrests have been made, but more than 200 people have died in the area in various accidents over two years.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - 128 have been confirmed dead, but hundreds more are missing under the mud and mine debris that in just a few minutes on September 8, at eight o'clock in the morning, wiped out the little mining center of Taoshi, in the city of Linfen, in the county of Xiangfen in Shanxi. Bulldozers and 2,000 workers and firemen continue to search with little hope, while anger is growing over a man-made disaster that could have been avoided.

The residents complain that hundreds are "missing", and accuse the state-run television, radio, and press outlets of "lying" to minimize the disaster. Meanwhile, hundreds of policemen are "monitoring" the area, possibly to block protests or the arrival of too many foreign journalists.

President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have personally ordered the identification and prosecution of everyone responsible: according to the state news agency Xinhua, the secretary of the local communist party has already been dismissed, together with the head of the village and two Xiangfen safety officials, for "a failure to strictly deal with hidden safety dangers".

The landslide pulled down a deposit of waste from the Tashan iron mine, generating an avalanche of tons of debris, stones, and mud, three stories high and 600 meters wide. Now there are questions over why the mine waste was stored above the people's homes, and the owner of the mine has been arrested along with eight others.

Kong Zhaohua, whose home was miraculously spared, tells the South China Morning Post "This is not a natural disaster. This is purely a man-made disaster. The mine owner was greedy, officials corrupt and the voice of people never heard. Villagers have protested over the danger of the reservoir for years. We have warned the safety officials of Xiangfen county that each time rain came, sand and mud would come down with water. But the officials came and went saying they were satisfied".

Responsibility for the accident goes back years. "The reservoir", Kong continues, "was abandoned and sealed by a state-owned mining company many years ago. After the state-owned business went bankrupt, private businessmen took over".

Wang Dexue, deputy chief of the state administration for workplace safety, has said on television that "an illegal company was using the abandoned dump to get rid of its production waste". The national media are talking about a "story seen before", with disdain for the laws and basic safety measures in order to foster rapid industrialization, and accusing local the governments of overlooking safety in the mines, where 3,800 people died in 2007.

Linfen has been rocked by many industrial "accidents", with more than 200 people killed in less than two years: on January 20, 2007, a gas explosion in an illegal mine in the county of Fenxi killed 20 people, while in December 6, more than 100 died and 18 were wounded in another explosion at a mine in the county of Hongdong. On March 28, at the coal mine in Yujialing, a gas explosion killed 32, and in May of 2008 another explosion at the Pudeng mine claimed 28 victims. Each time, thorough investigations were carried out, and reassurances were given that safety measures would be stepped up in the area. Then, on September 8, the wall of debris fell.

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