46 dead as landslide hits village in Zhenxiong county, Yunnan

Dozens killed, several still missing as more than 1,100 rescuers battle to reach survivors buried by rubble in remote Yunnan settlement

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2013, 12:34pm

46 people died when a landslide hit a mountainous region in Yunnan province yesterday, local authorities and mainland media said.

Fourteen homes were buried in the landslide that struck Zhaojiagou village, in Zhenxiong county, at 8.18 am.

The county government's official website said that hours after the disaster struck, several people were still missing.

The village, about 550 kilometres northeast of the provincial capital Kunming, was home to 221 people in 56 families.

Xinhua said that by Saturday more than 1,100 rescue workers sent to the site had recovered all 46 bodies, among them a family of seven.

County government spokesman Wu Liang said many houses had been buried.

He said two injured people were sent to a hospital, but did not give details of their injuries.

Xinhua said the rescue was proceeding relatively slowly because the province had experienced unusually low temperatures in recent weeks. Cranes were still digging at the site, searching for victims.

The cause of the landslide remains unknown. Wu said they occurred occasionally in the region, which was prone to earthquakes and heavy rains. But local residents said over-exploitation by coal miners caused soil erosion and destabilised hillsides.

Zhenxiong, on Yunnan's border with Guizhou , is one of the most mineral-rich counties on the mainland.

The central government named it China's anthracite production base in 2004.

"The government should have monitored the geological hazards in the region long ago but they have failed to do so," one resident said.

He said there was a major coal mine close to the buried village.

County government official Xiong Changkai said the village had not been included in the county's monitoring system because it had never experienced such landslides.

He also denied any link to over-exploitation by miners. "We have a precaution system for landslides, but this time it really was an accident," Xiong said.

Yunnan is not new to such tragedies. A landslide in nearby Yiliang county buried a primary school in October, leaving 18 pupils and one adult dead.

Premier Wen Jiabao made an overnight trip to the area to comfort survivors, called for precautions against possible disasters and urged officials to do a good job when dealing with public safety.

That was Wen's second visit to Yiliang county in a month. He also visited it in September after it was hit by a series of earthquakes, one registering a magnitude of 5.8 that killed 81 people.

Millions of internet users swamped online forums to post condolences for the victims of yesterday's landslide.