Hundreds of rescue workers and volunteers are searching for dozens of people feared buried alive when part of a mountain collapsed in a massive landslide in south-west China, officials said. Seventy-four people were missing after the disaster struck Friday afternoon in an iron ore mining district of the vast Chongqing municipality, a Chongqing government spokesman told a televised news conference.
The figure included 47 miners and 21 local residents. The others were four passers-by and two employees from a telecoms company, spokesman Ai Yang said. Local officials had earlier said 78 were missing. The vice-premier Zhang Dejiang arrived at the site early today to supervise the rescue effort and comfort relatives of the victims, television images showed. Eight people have been rescued from the debris, with three seriously injured and one of those in a critical condition, local officials said. They were all taken to hospital.
The landslide occurred in the remote mountainous region of Jiwei in Wulong district. More than 3.5 million tonnes of mud and rock crashed hundreds of metres down into the valley, burying houses and a working mine, according to estimates quoted by the authorities. Twenty-seven miners were working in the mine at the time of the landslide. Emergency workers were hopeful of rescuing all the miners, unlike victims who were on the surface, who were hit by the debris.
"The important task now is to save the 27 miners," Mr Ai said. About 1,500 people have joined the rescue effort, including volunteers, professional rescue workers and security forces with dogs, to search through the confusion of mud, rocks and debris for more survivors. About 500 rescue workers were dispatched from neighbouring districts to help 400 firefighters, police and other personnel, particularly medical staff, deployed by authorities, according to the local communications department.
The authorities were also concerned about the threat of flooding in the region after the landslide blocked the Wujiang, a tributary of the Yangtze, the official Xinhua news agency said. An investigation has begun into the cause of the disaster, which also cut power lines and communications in several areas. In September last year, at least 277 people were killed in a landslide in the northern province of Shanxi when a reservoir holding mine waste collapsed.
Government investigations found the collapse at the unlicensed mine was a result of negligence and 113 people were punished in connection with the disaster, state media reported in April. China's mining industry is one of the most dangerous in the world. In the latest accident, seven miners were killed in a gas leak at a mine in north-west Xinjiang region, Xinhua said. Official figures show that more than 3,200 workers died in China's notoriously dangerous coal mines last year, but independent observers say the actual figure could be much higher, as many accidents are covered up.