Hopes fade in search for survivors of Tibet landslide

BEIJING (AFP) - Hopes were fast fading on Sunday 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.

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

A total of 82 miners remained 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 disaster struck when a huge section of land tumbled onto a mine workers' camp in Maizhokunggar county, east of the Tibetan capital Lhasa, at 6:00 am local time on Friday. The first body was found at 5.35 pm on Saturday.

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

Mr 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.

Mr 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," Mr Wu said.

Teams using sniffer dogs and radar combed the mountainside 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.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) on Saturday showed dozens of bulldozers shifting earth as others headed to the disaster area.

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

According to the Chinese government, the mine produces copper as well as other metals.

Almost all 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 is currently visiting the Republic of Congo in 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. State media said 13 others were rescued after the accident at Babao Coal Mine in the city of Baishan in Jilin province.