The death toll from a rain-triggered mud-rock flow in north China's Shanxi Province rose to 151 as of Thursday afternoon, with 35 injured.
The death toll from a rain-triggered mud-rock flow in north China's Shanxi Province rose to 151 as of Thursday afternoon, with 35 injured, the local rescue headquarters said.
The State Council, China's Cabinet, has set up an accident investigation team, including officials from the State Administration of Work Safety, Shanxi provincial government, Ministry of Supervision, Ministry of Land and Resources, and All China Federation of Trade Unions.
The team, headed by Wang Jun, the State Administration of Work Safety director, also invited the Supreme People's Procuratorate to assist in the investigation.
After a preliminary investigation, the team believed it was an "accident of grave responsibility" resulting from the illegal operation of an unlicensed ore mine.
"It is the most grave accident that involves the largest death toll so far this year," Wang said. "The rising accidents disclose local governments' poor supervision on work safety. Those responsible must be dealt with seriously."
Police have detained 13 people who were held accountable for the accident, including board chairman of the Xinta Mining Company, the mine manager, a vice manager and an accountant.
The Communist Party chief and head of Taosi Township, and the work safety bureau director and chief engineer in Xiangfen County were dismissed for neglect of duty.
Shanxi Provincial Government Secretary-General Wang Qingxian said Internet claims that hundreds of people were missing were mere speculation. He promised timely and transparent updated casualty numbers.
Relatives of the dead will get 200,000 yuan (29,215 U.S. dollars) each as compensation, according to the provincial government.
Officials from Linfen City and Xiangfen County have been sent to the scene, helping the relatives identify the victims and apply for the compensation. So far, the families of 38 victims have been confirmed.
As of 8 p.m. Thursday, a rescue team of more than 3,000 people, with the aid of 160 excavators, were continuing the rescue operation.
However, the sludge at the scene made the rescue work even more difficult. "Every step got bogged down in the mud," said He Jianzhong, a rescuer from the fire brigade of Xiangfen County.
The injured, except one seriously hurt, were in stable conditions, doctors said.
The disaster happened around 7:50 a.m. Monday when the bank of a reservoir holding waste ore dregs burst at the Tashan Mine in Xiangfen County, Linfen City.
The ore dregs reservoir, built in the 1980s, was halfway up a mountain, about 50 meters above an office building, a marketplace and some residences. It was only 100 meters away from the nearest residence.
The mud, mixed with ore fragments, slid down the mountainside, washing away people, pushing the office building forward for 15 meters, and destroying the market and residences lying about 500 meters downstream.
Chen Kexiang, a survivor of the accident, saw the bank burst while shopping at the market. "The reservoir collapsed abruptly, just like an explosion."
In total, 268,000 cubic meters of sludge deluged over an area of 30.2 hectares.
Rescue work is underway and the specific number of people trapped underneath the rubble is still under investigation.
(Xinhua News Agency September 12, 2008)