RESCUERS IN ACTION: The local government mobilized a large number of rescue workers to pull out survivors from the wall of sludge and minimize the losses caused by the mudslide
An iron ore mine disaster in Shanxi Province, which killed hundreds of people on the morning of September 8, abruptly ended the tranquility and served as a reminder about how unsafe some of the country's mines are.
The accident occurred in a mine waste reservoir at the Tashan Mine owned by Xinta Mining Co. Ltd. (Xinta) in Xiangfen County, Linfen City. Local officials said heavy rains, which broke a retaining wall in a mine waste reservoir, caused a massive mudslide down a 50-meter-high hillside. A deluge of mud, several meters high, roared through a nearby marketplace and covered some buildings to their roofs, witnesses told Xinhua News Agency. The surrounding houses and a three-story office building were destroyed in minutes, and a village that was home to about 1,300 residents was buried under a wall of sludge.
Rescuers wasted no time rushing to the scene. Around 100 local villagers, firefighters and policemen raced against clock to hunt for survivors trapped in the sea of mud, which covered 74 acres. Rescuers managed to pull out 41 survivors, but hopes of finding more appeared dim two days after the disaster. So far, the death toll has risen to 265, with another 35 injured.
Rescue workers had continued to search for other survivors despite fading hope. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered all-out efforts in rescue operations and a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident. Ma Kai, State Councillor and Secretary-General of the State Council, rushed to the accident scene to direct rescue efforts. By September 12, a total of 4,700 rescuers and health workers had participated in the disaster relief work and helped to disinfect the affected area.
The government has pledged to pay 200,000 yuan ($29,261) to the families of each identified victim and give financial help to those who were injured, according to Xiangfen County's relief program. Those who were displaced have been resettled in temporary shelters, and the local government will subsidize the reconstruction of their homes.
In another move, Meng Xuenong, Governor of Shanxi Province, took the blame for the accident and resigned after only eight months in office. He was replaced by Wang Jun, Minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, who was named acting governor. Zhang Jianmin, Vice Governor of Shanxi Province in charge of work safety, was removed from office. A number of other local officials also were suspended from their duties, and the mine's president and a few senior managers were arrested.
A man-made disaster
County officials at first blamed a downpour for the collapse of the mine waste dump and the mud-rock flow and called it a natural disaster. But this turned out to be unfounded. Local villagers told Xinhua News Agency that the officials' statement was totally deceptive, because it only drizzled for a while on the morning of September 8.
Data from the Meteorological Bureau of Xiangfen County offered more clues. The whole county had received only a minimum rainfall amounting to 1.5 mm since the beginning of September, according to the Xiangfen bureau. This amount was not enough to sufficiently wet the ground, let alone cause a mudslide, said specialists at the China Meteorological Bureau.