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17 confirmed dead in Tibet landslide

By Wang Huazhong and Daqing  (China Daily)

08:14, April 01, 2013

Rescuers use excavators on Sunday to search for workers buried in a landslide in Maizhokunggar county in the Tibet autonomous region. The disaster occurred at about 6 am on Friday, burying 83 workers. LI LIN / CHINA NEWS SERVICE

The number of people known to have died in a landslide that buried 83 people in a mining area near Lhasa rose to 17 on Sunday evening.

The others remain trapped under the debris, and their chances of survival are "slim" according to the rescue headquarters. It deployed more workers and machines to help in the rescue operation.

On Sunday, tents, clothes and kitchen knives were retrieved close to where the bodies were found. That has led rescuers to believe more miners might be buried nearby.

The landslide and ensuing mudslide blanketed a camp in the Jiama mining area in Zhaxigang village, Maizhokunggar county, at about 6 am on Friday, according to authorities.

It measured more than 2 million cubic meters in volume and covered a belt of land 3 kilometers long between mountains. The average thickness of the debris is about 30 meters, according to the rescue headquarters.

More than 3,500 rescuers — with numbers still growing — have been working day and night to search for the trapped workers since Friday.

Temperatures dropped below zero with snow during the past nights.

The rescuers have had to consolidate and expand mountain passes and work in thin air at an altitude of more than 4,600 meters.

Many rescuers working overtime told China Daily they have difficulty breathing or have a faster-than-normal heartbeat. Some sniffer dogs were affected by the cold weather.

Wu Yingjie, vice-chairman of the Tibet autonomous region government, said the key to the operation is searching for the missing people and preventing secondary disasters. But "hope is slim for the missing people to survive", Wu said.

Yang Dongliang, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, said on Saturday: "It’s very difficult to find the trapped people because the volume of dirt and stones is too big. The power of the landslide was so great."

Fifteen sniffer dogs and 15 life detectors have not revealed any sign of life so far.

"A team of experts from the State and local level land and resources authorities are investigating the fundamental cause of the landslide and will publicize the result," Yang said.

Zhou Chengcan, senior engineer of the autonomous region’s land and resources bureau, said on Friday the mountain slope lost stability and support that led to the landslide. He added the climate in Tibet is so dry it is vulnerable to landslides.

The regional government has started work on compensation plans for the victims’ families.

Huatailong Mining Development Co, a subsidiary of China National Gold Group Corp, began production in the Jiama mining area in July 2010.

Sun Zhaoxue, general manager of China National Gold Group Corp, on Sunday told China Daily the company did not directly employ the 83 people.

He added three companies providing mining and exploring services to the Huatailong company contracted the workers.

He named the companies as the Fourth Institute of Geological and Mineral Exploration of Gansu Provincial Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Lhasa Jinzuan Drilling Co and Lhasa Tianchu Construction Co.

Sun said the companies dispatched workers on March 21 to the mining area after the companies signed contracts with Huatailong.

Lu Dapeng, a manager of the Lhasa Tianchu Construction Co, confirmed that two of the missing people were temporary drivers his company hired.

"We did not buy insurance for the drivers because of time pressure," Lu said.

Calls to the Gansu Provincial Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources went unanswered on Sunday.

Jiang Liangyou, chairman of Huatailong, said the company will provide humanitarian compensation and aid to victims’ families under government guidance.

The identities of all the missing workers, including two women and two Tibetans, have been confirmed.

Relatives of the missing were informed and some had arrived in Lhasa on Sunday.

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