Only two bodies have been found so far at a Tibetan mine where a massive landslide wiped out a camp of 83 mine workers on Friday, state media reported. There were no survivors.
Rescuers pulled the bodies out of debris yesterday evening - 36 hours after the landslide - at the Jiama gold and copper mine in Maizhokunggar county, 68 kilometres east of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, Xinhua reported.
The workers' tents were buried under a mass of rock, mud and debris three kilometres wide and an average of 30 metres deep.
Snow, sub-zero temperatures and further minor landslides hampered rescue efforts at the site, which state media says is located at an altitude of more than 4,600 metres, making it one of the world's highest mines. About 300,000 cubic metres of landslide debris - just 15 per cent of the total - had been removed by noon yesterday.
The Tibet autonomous region government said at a press conference yesterday that the identities of all the missing, including two women, had been confirmed.
Two were Tibetans and the rest Han Chinese, mostly migrants from the southwestern provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan.
Fourteen came from Xishui county in northern Guizhou, Xinhua quoted the government of Zunyi, a municipality that oversees the county, as saying.
The workers, employed by the state-owned China Gold Group Corporation's subsidiary Tibet Huatailong Mining Development Company, were probably asleep when the landslide occurred at about 6am.
Xinhua quoted an armed police officer engaged in the rescue as saying that cracks were observed along nearby mountains, indicating the possibility of more landslides.
It said a team of geotechnical engineers were monitoring the situation.
Some rescuers were suffering from altitude sickness, while the low temperature had affected the rescue dogs' sense of smell, Xinhua added. More snow is forecast for today and tomorrow, with strong gusts of wind also expected.
While official media have described the tragedy as a natural disaster, many internet users believed it was the result of large-scale mining in Tibet's fragile environment.
Jin Zhongyi, a legal official in Zhejiang province, wrote on his Sina microblog: "Geological conditions in most places of Tibet are poor.
"The plateau was once an ocean bed and is made up of layers of sea sand and stones among other material."
China Gold Group, the only state-owned player in China's gold industry, began exploiting the Jiama mine in 2008 after its local subsidiary Huatailong was established the year before.
China Gold Group is the country's biggest gold producer, processing 150,000 tonnes of ore daily, the company website says.