Massive landslide hits China industrial park; 59 missing

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BEIJING: At least 59 people, including 23 women, were missing on Sunday after hundreds of tonnes of mud from a crumbling mountain engulfed 33 buildings and triggered an explosion at a gas station in an industrial park in Shenzhen, China’s biggest manufacturing hub.

In what is being regarded as one of China’s worst urban disasters, 14 people were pulled out of the mountain of mud that swamped the vast area of the new industrial estate. Three people were injured in the disaster.

The 59 missing included 36 males and 23 females,  Yang Feng, an official with Shenzhen’s emergency management office told reporters tonight.

More than 1,500 people including firemen, police and health workers are involved in the rescue operations, searching the debris for any trapped victims. The rescue headquarters said they have detected signs of life at three separate locations of the site. Rescuers were battling unfavourable geological conditions to save those trapped under the debris. A family of a grandfather and three children was among the missing, state media reported.

The cause of the landslide was unclear but a probe was underway. “The site is quite narrow and is located on a ramp, so it is very difficult for vehicles to enter. We have to go there on foot,” Ao Zhuoqian, an official of Shenzhen’s fire control department, told state-run Xinhua news agency. Rescue efforts were being hampered by a spate of obstacles, including rain, low nighttime visibility and the large amount of mud, Ao said.

A woman surnamed Hu told the local Shenzhen Evening News that she saw her father engulfed by earth in his own truck. “It’s been hours after he was buried, and we are quite worried,” Hu said.

The landslide buried 33 residential and industrial buildings, officials said. A statement on Weibo, China’s micro-blogging site akin to Twitter, from the Shenzhen municipal government said the landslide also triggered an explosion at a nearby gas station.

A nearby section of the West-to-East natural gas pipeline exploded after the landslide struck the Hengtaiyu industrial park at around 11.40 am which resulted in amassing of more than 100,000 square metres of debris, media reports said.

Videos on China’s social media showed vast amounts of red mud pouring into the city with huge noise around 11 am engulfing building after building. The mud slide slowed down as it approached the main area of the estate providing time for many people to escape. Rescuers evacuated more than 900 residents from the site by evening. The buildings buried in the landslide also included two workers’ dormitories. A residential area was also situated beside the industrial park.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang ordered immediate rescue efforts saying no efforts should be spared to save lives.