Shenzhen disaster was 'man-made, not natural'

Rescuers resting among the debris of collapsed industrial buildings during a break in rescue operations in Shenzhen last Wednesday. There is some risk of more landslides at three separate places and professionals are dealing with the issue.
Rescuers resting among the debris of collapsed industrial buildings during a break in rescue operations in Shenzhen last Wednesday. There is some risk of more landslides at three separate places and professionals are dealing with the issue.PHOTO: REUTERS

Landslide caused by breaches of construction safety rules, says statement on govt website

SHANGHAI • The landslide in southern China that killed seven people and left more than 70 people still unaccounted for was caused by breaches of construction safety rules and was not a natural disaster, a government website quoted local authorities as saying.

Rescuers and officials yesterday downed their tools and listened to excavators and vehicles honking in memory of the victims of the landslide. White flowers were scattered on the debris, Xinhua news agency reported.

An investigation by a team in Shenzhen directed by China's Cabinet found that the Dec 20 disaster stemmed from waste construction material in a landfill site rather than a natural geological movement, a statement posted late last Friday on the Cabinet's website said.

"Those held accountable will be seriously punished in accordance with the law," the statement said.

Mr Ma Xingrui, the Communist Party chief of Shenzhen, bowed in contrition last Friday and vowed to punish anyone found culpable.

With other senior city officials at his side, Mr Ma bowed to the cameras and indicated that he would also accept responsibility for the disaster.

The Shenzhen city leadership, he said, "will assume whatever responsibility should be assumed, accept whatever punishment is due, and punish whoever should be punished".

In China, disasters are often followed by dismissals of officials and prosecution of bureaucrats and executives deemed culpable. It became even more likely that the debris slide would bring similar recriminations, in the light of the findings by the central government investigators.

The man-made disaster, which buried 33 buildings in an industrial park, has raised questions about China's industrial safety standards and the lack of oversight that has led to fatal accidents, a by-product of the country's rapid growth.

At the Shenzhen industrial park, there is still some risk of more landslides at three separate places and professionals have been brought in to deal with the issue.

"There are also dangerous chemical items that need to be identified and treated," Mr Yang Shengjun, head of the Shenzhen Housing and Urban-Rural Development Bureau, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Mr Yang said no air or water contamination has been detected yet.

The company managing the dump site, Shenzhen Yixianglong, was urged to stop work four days before the disaster, an executive with a government-appointed monitoring agency said last Thursday.

Xinhua earlier reported that the dump was being used 10 months after it was supposed to have stopped taking in waste, earning Yixianglong some 7.5 million yuan (S$1.6 million) in fees.

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 27, 2015, with the headline 'Shenzhen disaster was 'man-made, not natural''. Print Edition | Subscribe