Rescuers digging for victims of a massive landslide at a gold mining site in mountainous Tibet found one body today, a day after 83 workers were buried in the disaster, Chinese state media reported. The fate of the other victims was unknown.
The workers were buried yesterday when about 2 million cubic metres (2.6 million cubic yards) of mud, rock and debris swept through the mine in Gyama village in Maizhokunggar county and covered an area measuring around 4 square kilometres (1.5 square miles).
More than 3000 rescuers equipped with sniffer dogs and excavators were scouring the high-altitude, mountainous area today, but search efforts were slowed after snow started to fall early in the afternoon, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Xinhua said the body was retrieved at 5.35pm (local time), nearly 36 hours after the landslide slammed through the area and buried the workers, who were believed to have been sleeping in their tents. The area is about 70 kilometres (45 miles) east of Lhasa, the regional capital.
The miners worked for Huatailong Mining Development, a subsidiary of the China National Gold Group Corp, a state-owned enterprise and the country'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 before they were scrubbed off or blocked from public view by censors.
Beijing says the cause of the disaster is yet to be fully investigated, although state media say the mudslide was caused by a "natural disaster," without giving specifics.
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."
Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser, who has been following the mining development in Gyama and surrounding areas since 2007, said China's powerful but resource-hungry state-owned companies had ravaged the landscape.
"Unchecked mining has polluted water, sickened animals and humans, dislocated herdsmen and now caused a massive mudslide," Woeser wrote Saturday on her blog.
The Chinese government has been encouraging development of mining and other industries in long-isolated Tibet as a way to promote its economic growth and raise living standards. The region has abundant deposits of copper, chromium, bauxite and other precious minerals and metals, and is one of fast-growing China's last frontiers.
Tibet remains among China's poorest regions despite producing a large share of its minerals. A key source of anti-Chinese anger is complaints by local residents that they get little of the wealth extracted by government companies, most of which flows to distant Beijing.
Wangchuktseten, a Tibetan scholar at Northwest University of Nationalities in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, said he was most worried about the environment. "The Tibetan plateau is considered the lungs of Asia," he said. "Those short-sighted mining activities chase after quick benefits but ignore the environment for future generations."
State media said that two of the buried workers are Tibetans, and that two are women.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was on an official trip to Congo, and Premier Li Keqiang ordered authorities to "spare no efforts" in their rescue work, state media have reported.