Rescuers with backhoes and excavators dug up tons of earth and rubble in search of 48 missing people after a landslide buried an open-pit mine in north China on Thursday. CCTV reported that the death toll in the disaster rose to five.
Conditions in the area remain dangerous, and the search had to be suspended for several hours after a second landslide hit the giant Inner Mongolia Alxa League facility.
On Thursday afternoon, more than a dozen bulldozers, trucks, vans and fire trucks were seen passing through a remote police checkpoint about 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of the mine.
The police detained almost all the staff and checked whether they had entry clearance before they were allowed to continue on the road leading to the mine.
A police official said that only those with government approval could access the area. She said that the people who lived near the mine had been sent to stay in a nearby town.
The initial collapse of one of the shaft walls occurred around 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, burying people and mining trucks under tons of rock and sand. It was followed some five hours later by additional landslide, forcing work to be suspended.
The official Xinhua News Agency said around 900 rescuers in heavy equipment were on the scene and had resumed the search on Thursday morning.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for “maximum search and rescue efforts” and “ensure the safety of people’s lives and property and maintain overall social stability.”
Footage of the collapse distributed by CCTV showed a massive wall of rubble hurtling down a slope towards the people and vehicles below.
The company that operates the mine, Inner Mongolia Xinjing Coal Industry Co. Ltd., was fined last year for multiple safety violations ranging from unsafe routes into and out of the pit to unsafe storage of volatile materials and lack of training of its security personnel. , according to the news website The Paper.
Inner Mongolia is a key region for the extraction of coal and various minerals and rare earths, which critics say has devastated the region’s landscape of mountains, grassy steppes and deserts.
China overwhelmingly relies on coal for power generation, but has tried to reduce the number of fatal accidents in mines by placing greater emphasis on safety and closing smaller operations that lacked the necessary equipment.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
China has seen a large number of deadly industrial and construction accidents in recent months as a result of poor safety training and regulation, official corruption and a tendency for profit-seeking companies to cut corners.
Despite those high-profile incidents, the overall number of industrial accidents dropped by 27 percent in 2022, when much of China’s economy was shut down under the zero-COVID policy, from a year earlier, the government announced. Ministry of Emergency Management last month. The number of deaths in such accidents also fell 23.6 percent, the ministry said.