91 missing from man-made landslide in China

By Paul Traynor ,AP

SHENZHEN, Guangdong — Rescuers were searching Monday for at least 91 missing people a day after a mountain of excavated soil and construction waste buried dozens of buildings when it swept through an industrial park in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Mainland China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the landslide buried or damaged 33 buildings in the industrial park in Shenzhen, a major manufacturing center in Guangdong province across the border from Hong Kong that makes products used around the world ranging from cellphones to cars.

Aerial photos on the microblog of the Public Security Ministry’s Firefighting Bureau showed the area awash in a sea of red mud, with several buildings either knocked on their side or collapsed entirely.

Posts on the microblog said mud had thoroughly infused many of the buildings, leaving the “room of survival extremely small.”

Just seven people were rescued overnight and 13 overall were hospitalized, including three with life-threatening injuries, according to state broadcaster China Central Television, or CCTV, which cited rescue leaders.

Persistent rain fell in the area on Monday, although it wasn’t clear whether that was hampering rescue efforts.

Cellphone camera video of the noontime Sunday disaster run by CCTV showed the massive wall of debris slamming into the buildings and sending up huge plumes of dust.

Details began to emerge about the cause of the landslide, which authorities said covered an area of 100,000 square meters with up to 6 meters of mud.

The Ministry of Land and Resources said the debris originated with a steep, man-made mountain of dirt, cement chunks and other construction waste that had been piled up against a 100-meter-high hill over the past two years.

Heavy rains in the region had saturated the soil, making it increasingly unstable and ultimately causing it to collapse with massive force.

“The pile was too big, the pile was too steep, leading to instability and collapse,” the ministry said, adding that the original, natural hill remained intact.

Some area residents blamed government negligence for the disaster.

“If the government had taken proper measures in the first place, we would not have had this problem,” said one of the residents, Chen Chengli. “We’ve been down this road before, it’s too crazy.”

Chen’s neighbor Yi Jimin refuted arguments that the landslide was an act of nature.

“Heavy rains and a collapse of a mountain are natural disasters, but this wasn’t a natural disaster, this was man-made,” Yi said.

A man who runs a store selling cigarettes and alcohol less than a kilometer (half-mile) from the site said locals had known that the pile of soil was dangerous and feared something bad would happen.