Rescue teams have found the first body almost 36 hours after a giant landslide in Tibet buried 83 mine workers under two million cubic metres of earth, China’s state media has reported.
Xinhua news agency said said on Saturday rescuers “found the first body”, after a huge section of land buried a mine workers’ camp in Maizhokunggar county, east of the Tibetan capital Lhasa, on Friday.
The report came after officials said at a press conference aon Saturday that a massive search and rescue operation had failed to locate any survivors or bodies up to that point.
A rescue worker had also described the chance of survivors being found as “slim”, Xinhua said, as teams using sniffer dogs and radar combed the mountainside in a hunt for survivors that was hampered by bad weather, altitude sickness and further landslides.
The state-run China Central Television (CCTV) said on Saturday that more than 2,000 rescuers dispatched to Maizhokunggar county in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, have been searching for the buried.
About 30 excavators were also digging away at the site late on Friday as temperatures fell to just below freezing.
A 3km-long section of land, with a volume of about two million cubic meters of mud, rock and debris swept through the area as the workers were resting and covered an area measuring around four square kilometers, CCTV said.
The miners work for a subsidiary of the China National Gold Group Corp, a state-owned enterprise and the country’s largest gold producer.
The reports said at least two of the buried workers were Tibetan, while most were believed to be ethnic Han Chinese.
The landslide came on the same day as a gas blast in a northeast China coal mine which killed 28 people.
The reports said the landslide was caused by a “natural disaster” but did not provide specifics.
China’s new president, Xi Jinping, who wrapped up a visit to the Republic of Congo in Africa, and Li Keqiang, the new premier, have ordered “top efforts” to rescue the victims, Xinhua said.
Doctors at the local county hospital said they had been told to prepare to receive survivors but none had arrived.
“We were ordered to make all efforts to receive the injured,” said a doctor who gave only her surname, Ge, in the hospital’s emergency section.
On Saturday morning, a hospital staff member who gave her surname of Wu said it had received no one from the landslide, dead or alive.
The Lhasa city government and China National Gold Group Corporation did not immediately answer calls late on Friday.
The landslide struck at about 6am local time, but Xinhua’s first news reports about it ran more than 15 hours later.
Mountainous regions of Tibet are prone to landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy mining activity.
Han Chinese have been increasingly moving into historically Tibetan areas, and many Tibetans in China say their culture is being eroded.
China rejects criticism of its rule, pointing to huge ongoing investment it says has brought modernisation and better standards of living to Tibet.
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 reserves are estimated to be worth more than $100bn, Xinhua reported in 2011, citing government statistics.
It quoted a local official saying that the purpose of mining was to “benefit the local people”.