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Gov't probes into deadly Shanxi landslide
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The State Council has launched an investigation into a landslide that killed 44 people in the northern Shanxi Province in August.

Human errors were to blame for the landslide, which toppled a waste dump of a local iron mine and buried Sigou Village of Loufan County in the suburbs of the provincial capital Taiyuan on Aug. 1, said State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) deputy director Wang Dexue.

Wang is heading a 49-member team established Monday to investigate the accident as its severity was suspected to have been down played by local authorities.

He blamed the local government for inadequate safety supervision and mine authorities for overloading the dump site, which is on loose earth and topples easily under the weight of the waste.

"Cracks were seen on the dump in April but no action was taken to remedy the situation or to evacuate the villagers," said Wang.

Wang said his team would "thoroughly investigate" the accident, revamp work place safety in the resource-rich province, and submit an investigative report to the State Council within two months.

"We are almost certain it's not just a natural disaster," he said during a site survey to the mine areas Sunday. "We need to find out the direct and indirect causes of the accident and whether the tragedy had been covered up or down played in the first place."

Anyone who were held responsible for the accident would be penalized, he said.

Wang's investigation team consists of senior officials from the Ministry of Supervision, Ministry of Land and Resources, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Shanxi provincial government.

Two weeks after the deadly landslide, the death toll given by the local government stopped at 11. Families complained at least 30 others had been trapped under more than 800,000 cubic meters of rocks and waste from the mine.

After public anger over the accident grew, the central government sent investigators to Loufan Sept. 20.

Rescue work has now ended and the final death toll stands at 44, with one injury, the Taiyuan city government said during a meeting with the central government investigation team Monday.

To date, 15 bodies had been claimed.

Families of the dead will get a total of 10 million yuan (1.46 million U.S. dollars) in compensation from the government, an average of 227,000 yuan per family.

The exact number of people trapped in the landslide was unknown for weeks because most of the victims were migrants and were not registered at the local public security bureau.

The official website of the Loufan county government said Sigou village had 276 migrants as of November 2007, including 150 from the northwestern Gansu Province and 56 from the neighboring county of Jiaocheng.

They made about 100 yuan (14 U.S. dollars) a day by collecting pieces of iron ore from the dump and reselling them.

The waste dump, within 200 meters from the village, belongs to Jianshan Iron Mine. It was operated by Taiyuan Iron and Steel (Group) Company Ltd.

Chinese law states, such dumps should be at least 500 meters from residential areas and should have embankments or walls to contain dust or prevent landslides. The dump near Sigou, however, had none.

The Loufan county government had planned to relocate Sigou Village but villagers and mine authorities could not agree on compensation. Villagers said the newly planned village didn't have enough arable land to sustain farmers.

Loufan county is about 97 kilometers from Taiyuan's city center.

(Xinhua News Agency October 6, 2008)

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