One survivor found as China pledges landslide probe

Rescuers carry survivor Tian Zeming after he was pulled from debris on Dec 23, 2015.
Rescuers carry survivor Tian Zeming after he was pulled from debris on Dec 23, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Rescuers scrabbling through the debris of a huge three-day-old landslide discovered a young man alive in the mud on Wednesday (Dec 23), as China's cabinet announced a probe into the nation's latest industrial disaster.

Tian Zeming survived for almost 72 hours on seeds and fruit that had been buried alongside him when a tide of earth and rubble from a huge waste dump crushed more than 30 buildings, rescuers were quoted as saying.

"He has a very strong will to survive," the emergency team's leader told the government-run Shenzhen Special Zone Daily newspaper in the southern Chinese boom town.

The 19-year-old had used a rock to tap on debris to try to attract the attention of those looking for signs of life among the sea of mud.

Images from the scene showed dozens of firefighters and police thronging around a stretcher, apparently bearing the teenager to a waiting ambulance.

He was confirmed to be one of the 76 listed as officially missing after the disaster, the Guangdong province fire department said on its official microblog.

A second man who was also found alive in the debris early Wednesday died several hours later, firefighters said.

An additional body was recovered Wednesday afternoon, the China Youth Daily reported, bringing the confirmed death toll to three.

The number of deaths was expected to rise sharply after the so-called "golden period" - the 72-hour window when survival chances are highest - closed.

The landslide is the latest in a series of fatal accidents in the world's most populous country, and comes just months after a massive chemical blast in the industrial city of Tianjin killed almost 200 people.

Anger was growing over the lax standards and poor enforcement seen to be behind the disaster.

"The lack of safety supervision and passive attitude in taking precautions has caused the whole nation to shake with anger and shocked the world!" user Xizidan wrote in a post that was taken down by authorities, but was found on the censorship tracking website Weiboscope.

The mudslide was caused by the improper storage of waste from construction sites, according to the official newspaper of the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Soil was illegally piled 100 metres (330 feet) high at an old quarry site and turned to mud during rain Sunday morning, according to the state-run Global Times.

The State Council, China's cabinet, has set up a team to investigate the disaster, state broadcaster CCTV said Wednesday. The team will be headed by the minister of land resources.

Documents on the website of Guangming New District, where the landslide occurred, show that authorities were aware of problems with the storage and had urged action as early as July.

In an announcement dated July 10, officials said work at the site was not being carried out according to approved plans and ordered the Hongao Construction Waste Dump to "speed up" work to bring its operations into line.

The government issued a second warning in September, noting that the dump's permit to receive waste had expired and authorities had made it clear that dumping should cease.

The city had "pointed out problems at the site and requested steps to correct them", the statement said.