Authorities in Tibet said yesterday that chances were slim that any survivors would be found after a massive mudslide at a gold mine buried 83 workers in piles of earth up to 30m deep. Searchers have found 11 bodies and were searching for the remaining missing.
The landslide on Friday has spotlighted the extensive mining activities in Tibet and sparked questions about whether mining activities have been excessive and destroyed the region’s fragile ecosystem. The workers were buried when mud, rock and debris swept through the mine in Gyama village in Maizhokunggar County and covered an area measuring about 4km2, about 70km east of the regional capital, Lhasa.
By yesterday afternoon, searchers had found 11 bodies and were searching for the remaining 72 missing workers, Xinhua news agency said. Xinhua quoted Chinese Communist Party Deputy Secretary for Tibet Wu Yingjie (吳英杰) as saying chances were slim of finding anyone alive.
About 3,500 rescuers were searching for survivors and 300 pieces of large machinery had been mobilized, state media reported early yesterday, with many workers said to be digging with their bare hands while battling snow and altitude sickness.
“The rescuers are conducting an inch-by-inch search, but they still cannot locate the missing miners,” Wu said, according to Xinhua.
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 1m wide and 15m 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 on Saturday, battling bad weather, altitude sickness and further landslides. The disaster zone is located 4,600m 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 Corp, a state-owned company and the nation’s biggest gold miner by output.
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?”