ALXA LEAGUE, Feb 23 (AP): Rescuers with backhoes and bulldozers dug through tons of earth and rubble on Thursday for 48 people missing after a landslide buried an open-pit mine in northern China. State broadcaster 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 at the gigantic facility in Inner Mongolia’s Alxa League.
On Thursday afternoon, more than a dozen bulldozers, trucks, SUVs and fire engines were seen passing through a remote police checkpoint around 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of the mine.
Nearly all personnel were stopped by police and checked for entry approvals before being allowed to proceed further along the road leading to the mine.
A police officer said only those with government approval would be allowed access to the area. She said people living close to the mine had been sent to stay in a nearby town.
The initial cave-in of one of the pit’s walls struck at around 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, burying people and mining trucks below in tons of rocks and sand. It was followed about five hours later by the additional landslide, forcing the work suspension.
The cause of the disaster remains under investigation.
The official Xinhua News Agency said about 900 rescuers with heavy equipment were on the scene and they had resumed the search by Thursday morning.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for “all-out efforts in search and rescue” and for “ensuring the safety of people’s lives and property and maintaining overall social stability.”
Images of the collapse distributed by CCTV showed a massive wall of debris rushing down a slope onto people and vehicles below.
The company running the mine, Inner Mongolia Xinjing Coal Industry Co. Ltd., was fined last year for multiple safety violations ranging from insecure routes into and out of the pit, to unsafe storage of volatile materials and a lack of training for its safety staff, according to the news website The Paper.
Inner Mongolia is a key region for mining of coal and various minerals and rare earths that critics say has ravaged 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 deadly mine accidents through a greater emphasis on safety and the closure of smaller operations that lacked necessary equipment.
China has recorded a slew of deadly industrial and construction accidents in recent months as a result of poor safety training and regulation, official corruption and a tendency to cut corners by companies seeking to make profits.
Despite those high-profile incidents, the overall number of industrial accidents fell by by 27 percent in 2022, when much of China’s economy was shut down under the zero-COVID policy, over the previous year, the Ministry of Emergency Management announced last month. The number of deaths in such accidents also fell 23.6 percent, the ministry said.