Landslide Survivors Demand Investigation of Mine’s Role (Updated)

Relief efforts continue in Yunnan, where a remote village was decimated by a landslide last Friday. 46 people died, including 19 children. China Daily reported that 29 of the victims were from a single clan, now reduced to just three members. Many survivors are now living in tents, awaiting pre-fabricated housing and the eventual construction of a new settlement nearby.

Crowds of survivors protested outside the local disaster relief headquarters on Sunday night, after it emerged that victims had been cremated without their families’ approval. Local authorities apologized, but explained that they were not equipped to deal with so many dead bodies at once. From Xinhua:

“Why can’t I see my child for the last time?” Luo Yuanju, a migrant worker who hurried home after she got the tragic news that she had lost 29 relatives in the landslide, told the Beijing News. “This cremation was done without our approval. Why couldn’t the authorities wait for one or two days?”

[…] Government authorities had cremated all the bodies by Sunday, triggering anger from the victims’ families. According to the tradition of the village, where dwellers are mostly members of the Yi ethnic minority, the bodies of the dead are usually buried instead of cremated.

Lei Chuying, deputy head of Zhenxiong county, said cremation orders were given due to consideration of epidemic prevention and people’s feelings.

“Many parts of the bodies were missing while the buried were dug out,” Lei said, “The painful scene might cause trauma among relatives.”

An official investigation quickly concluded that the landslide was an entirely natural disaster, but local authorities have still faced criticism over their lack of preparedness. From Global Times:

Jiang Xingwu, a geological expert in Yunnan, told a press conference on Saturday afternoon that the area’s steep incline of 35 to 50 degrees and the composition of the soil made it prone to landslides.

Jiang said that the earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.7 and 5.6 which hit neighboring Yiliang county in September 2012 were also a cause, and the continued rainy and snowy weather over the past month led to the saturation of the slope, with gravity eventually causing the landslide.

The People’s Daily, a flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, Sunday questioned why there wasn’t any early warning given the prolonged rainy and snowy weather over the past month.

[…] Also of concern was the fact that a 2010 geological disaster prevention plan by the Zhenxiong government showed that the local government had compiled files for 184 hazardous sites including 29 major ones areas, but Gaopo village was not on the list.

In addition, some locals continued to voice suspicions that nearby mining activity was really to blame. From Xinhua:

Some villagers believe the landslide may have been triggered by a gas explosion, and they doubt the experts’ conclusion that the coal mine boundary was 500 meters away from the landslide.

“The mining area is right beneath the landslide,” a coal miner in Gaopo said, as quoted by media on Monday.

Witnesses told Xinhua they saw “earth and rocks sprayed up into the air” when the landslide occurred. At the same time, some other villagers said they had not been to the scene and only heard about the “explosion” from others.

[…] Wang Shijun, another person who lost family in the landslide, said a big crack appeared before the landslide. “Big enough to swallow a bull.”

However, some villagers said the crack was 1 meter wide and some said a half meter wide, while others said there was no crack.

Update: Global Times reports that 72 of the villagers have written to the State Council requesting a second investigation into the cause of the landslide.

Luo Yuanshou, the brother of a victim, initiated the joint letter and sent to the State Council on Wednesday. The villagers believe the Gaopo coal mine, which is 500 meters from the landslide scene, could have played a role in the landslide. Villagers wondered why the hillside remained stable following a 50-day snowstorm in 2008.

Luo told the Global Times that the villagers are demanding the State Council order the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, the Ministry of Land and Resources and the China University of Geosciences to investigate the landslide. The original investigation “hastily concluded the landslide had nothing to do with the mine without even an on-site investigation of the mine. The hill was not that steep and is covered with vegetation,” said Luo.

Jiang Xingwu, who headed the original investigation, told the Global Times Wednesday that he stands by the results of his investigation, adding he understands that the villagers may want another opinion.

The preference for burial over cremation is not limited to the Yi: see ‘Henan Officials Commit a Grave Error‘ on CDT. Neither is Friday’s landslide the only apparently natural disaster for which human activity has been blamed: see ‘2008 Sichuan Earthquake Likely Man-Made‘.