83 Buried in Tibet Mine Landslide (Updated)

Rescue efforts by thousands of soldiers, armed police and firefighters turned up a single body on Saturday [see update below], over a day and a half after two million cubic meters of mud and rock buried 83 miners near Lhasa. From Xinhua:

At about 6 a.m. on Friday, the disaster struck a workers’ camp of the Jiama Copper Polymetallic Mine in Maizhokunggar County, about 68 km from , the regional capital.

By 8 p.m. Saturday, 3,500 rescuers and 300 large-scale machineries are working on the site, according to local authorities.

“The rescuers are conducting inch-by-inch search but they still cannot locate the missing miners,” said Wu Yingjie, deputy secretary of Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China.

[…] Wu added that a one-meter-wide and 15-meter-long crack was formed at the mountain top, which indicated a possibility of subsequent disasters.

From the Associated Press:

Smaller have already hampered rescue efforts, according to Xinhua, while damage to nearby roads slowed the delivery of heavy equipment. Many workers have reportedly been digging with bare hands while suffering from altitude sickness. Snow began to fall on Saturday afternoon, and temperatures of -3°C have interfered with sniffer dogs’ sense of smell.

A media directive from the Central Propaganda Department described the landslide as “natural”, but warned news organizations “without exception” not to “report or speculate on related sensitive issues.” Likely among these is the question of whether activity may have triggered the disaster. After a landslide killed 46 people in Yunnan in January, local suspicions fell heavily on a nearby coal mine despite an initial investigation which claimed that mining was not to blame for the disaster. 72 surviving villagers subsequently wrote to the State Council requesting that this conclusion be reexamined.

Another sensitive point is the ethnicity of the buried miners, only two of whom are local Tibetans. The rest are Han, mainly from nearby Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces. Beijing has invested heavily in boosting Tibet’s economy, but the benefits have tended to flow to state-owned enterprises, and the jobs to incoming migrants, rather than to the local population.

Updated at 2:35 PST, March 31st: South China Morning Post reports the discovery of a second body, while the Associated Press provides more details on the mine operator:

The miners worked for Huatailong Mining Development. The company is a subsidiary of the Vancouver-based China Gold International Resources Corp. Ltd (TSX: CGG), whose controlling shareholder is the China National Gold Group Corp., a state-owned enterprise and China’s largest gold producer.

The disaster has spotlighted the extensive mining activities on the Tibetan plateau and sparked questions about whether mining activities have been excessive and destroyed the region’s fragile ecosystem. Criticisms, however, only flashed through China’s social media Saturday before they were scrubbed off or blocked from public view by censors.

[…] Btan Tundop, a Tibetan resident, noted the mining company’s dominance in the area in a short-lived microblog: “The entire Maizhokunggar has been taken over by China National Gold Group. Local Tibetans say the county and the village might as well be called Huatailong.”