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Hope fades for Chinese mine survivors

About 3,500 rescuers continue to search for at least 82 trapped miners two days after they were buried by landslide.

Last Modified: 31 Mar 2013 12:14
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Hopes were fast fading that Chinese search and rescue teams would find survivors two days after a huge landslide crashed down a Tibetan mountain, burying scores of mine workers.

About 3,500 rescuers were searching for survivors and 300 pieces of large machinery had been mobilised, state media reported early on Sunday, with many workers said to be digging with their bare hands while battling snow and altitude sickness.

A total of 82 miners remain trapped after one body was found on Saturday, almost 36 hours after the massive landslide buried the workers under two million cubic metres of earth.

"The rescuers are conducting an inch-by-inch search, but they still cannot locate the missing miners."

- Wu Yingjie, deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee 

The disaster struck when a huge section of land tumbled onto a mine workers' camp in Maizhokunggar county, east of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, at 6:00am local time on Friday (22:00 GMT).

"The rescuers are conducting an inch-by-inch search, but they still cannot locate the missing miners," said Wu Yingjie, deputy secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Wu said that, given the scale of the disaster, the miners' survival chances were slim.

Xinhua, citing its reporters, said that many workers were digging with their "bare hands" because damage to narrow local roads had kept much of the large-scale rescue machinery from getting to the site.

The chance of further landslides heightened safety concerns after cracks were reported on the mountain and others nearby.

Prone to landslides

Wu said that that a crack, measuring one metre wide and 15 metres long, had formed at the top of the mountain.

"The two rescue priorities for now are searching for the buried and preventing subsequent disasters," Wu said.

Teams using sniffer dogs and radar combed the mountainside on Saturday, battling bad weather, altitude sickness and further landslides.

The disaster zone is located 4,600 metres above sea level.

Mountainous regions of Tibet are prone to landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy mining activity.

The victims worked for a subsidiary of the China National Gold Group Corporation (CNGC), a state-owned company and the nation's biggest gold miner by output.

Almost all those buried were Han Chinese, the national ethnic majority, with only two ethnic Tibetans, Xinhua said. Most were migrant workers from the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan.

China's new president Xi Jinping, who returned on Sunday from visiting Russia and Africa, and new premier Li Keqiang had ordered "top efforts" to rescue the victims.

In recent years China has discovered huge mineral resources in Tibet, including tens of millions of tonnes of copper, lead and zinc, and billions of tonnes of iron ore, according to state media reports.

The Tibetan landslide came on the same day as a gas blast in a northeast China coal mine killed 28 people.

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