China / Society

Landslide kills dozens; Xi orders all-out rescue

(Xinhua) Updated: 2013-01-12 01:10

KUNMING - The death toll from a landslide that hit a mountainous region in southwest China's Yunnan Province on Friday has risen to 42, after more bodies were retrieved.

Chinese leaders Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao and Li Keqiang have ordered all-out efforts to rescue victims of the landslide in order to minimize casualties from the disaster.

Xi, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said efforts must be made to resettle affected residents, prevent secondary disasters and successfully complete relief work and reconstruction so as to ensure stability.

Xi also asked agencies involved in disaster relief to offer proper psychological treatment to affected residents and maintain public order.

The State Council, or China's Cabinet, has sent a work group comprised of leaders from various government departments, including the land and resources, civil affairs, finance, transport and health ministries, to the landslide-hit zone to direct relief work.

The work group, headed by Xu Shaoshi, minister of land and resources, will focus on solving practical problems on site.

At the time of Xi's announcement, rescue work was ongoing amid the debris in the Zhaojiaogou area of Gaopo Village, Zhenxiong County, located some 550 km northeast of Yunnan's capital city of Kunming, according to the publicity department.

The landslide hit the Zhaojiagou area around 8:20 a.m., burying the homes of local villagers, a local government official surnamed Wang told Xinhua.

Two injured people have been sent to a nearby hospital, and it has been confirmed that their injuries are not life-threatening.

According to initial accounts, 46 residents -- 27 adults and 19 children -- were buried in the landslide, according to the local civil affairs bureau. The Zhaojiagou area had a total of 73 households with a population of 468.

Prolonged local rainy and snowy weather triggered the landslide, geological experts said after initial investigations.

Li Lianju, deputy director of the Yunnan Land and Resources Department, said the landslide happened on a high, steep slope, where the rocky body had been marinated fully by the rain and snow over the past 10 consecutive days.

The landslide, 120 meters long, 110 meters wide, and 16 meters high, resulted in about 210,000 cubic meters of mud and rock, Li said.

"The sliding mud-rock plunged down and suddenly rushed into the one-hectare residential area of the village after passing a flat area, immediately burying and completely destroying 14 houses, and damaging two other houses," said the official.

Li added no such landslide had ever happened in the area before.

"The landslide, which brought a massive amount of watery mud to the village, buried all of the houses there and created great difficulties for rescue efforts amid low temperatures," said Sun Anfa, the leader of a local rescue team.

The rescue operation continued on Friday night as snow fell again in the area.

Feng Xuelan, secretary of the Zhenxiong county committee of the Communist Party of China, said that as of 8 p.m., more than 1,000 soldiers, police, firefighters and mine rescue workers had joined the search operation, with five excavators and four front-loader trucks. New snow also fell in the area on Friday night.

Meanwhile, 57 households threatened by possible new landslides had been relocated to a nearby primary school,  emergency tents, or the residences of their relatives, Feng added.

The governments at provincial, municipal and county levels had earmarked more than 10 million yuan (about 1.6 million U.S. dollars) for the rescue and disaster relief efforts.

Each family of the victims could get an initial subsidy of 10,000 yuan. The identities of the dead will be confirmed by DNA tests and their relatives.

The provincial civil affairs department has allocated relief materials such as tents, quilts, food and water to the region.

Zhenxiong County is adjacent to Yiliang County, where 19 people, including 18 primary school students, were killed in a landslide in October.

In September, a series of earthquakes -- with the strongest registering a magnitude of 5.7 -- struck the region, leaving at least 81 people dead in Yiliang.

A cold front will move toward the region in the coming week, bringing rain and snow to Zhenxiong County, according to the Yunnan provincial meteorological bureau.

Provincial and local meteorological authorities have initiated an emergency response mechanism for major natural disasters.

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