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Yunnan landslide ‘was natural’

By Hu Hongjiang in Zhenxiong and Sun Xiaobo in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-14 1:23:01

A team dispatched by the State Council to investigate Friday's landslide in Southwest China's Yunnan Province has said that geological conditions combined with past earthquakes and severe rainy and snowy weather were all responsible for the fatal disaster, which claimed 46 lives.

However, the conclusion that the landslide was totally due to natural events wasn't enough to quell public outrage over the lack of early warning of the disaster, which took place in the Zhaojiagou area of Gaopo village, Zhenxiong county.

Jiang Xingwu, a geological expert in Yunnan, told a press conference on Saturday afternoon that the area's steep incline of 35 to 50 degrees and the composition of the soil made it prone to landslides.

Jiang said that the earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.7 and 5.6 which hit neighboring Yiliang county in September 2012 were also a cause, and the continued rainy and snowy weather over the past month led to the saturation of the slope, with gravity eventually causing the landslide.

The People's Daily, a flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, Sunday questioned why there wasn't any early warning given the prolonged rainy and snowy weather over the past month.

According to the website of the Yunnan Geological Environmental Monitoring Institute, the agency's early warning and forecasting measures for geological disasters caused by the flood season of 2012 ended on November 21, but would resume in the event of abnormally high precipitation after that date.

Also of concern was the fact that a 2010 geological disaster prevention plan by the Zhenxiong government showed that the local government had compiled files for 184 hazardous sites including 29 major ones areas, but Gaopo village was not on the list.

Liu Jianhua, the mayor of Zhaotong, which administers Zhenxiong, told Xinhua that there had never been previous landslides in the immediate area and no hazards were found in previous inspections.

Zhenxiong is one of the areas most vulnerable to landslides in Yunnan. The number of geological-disaster prone sites in Yunnan accounts for nearly one tenth of the country's total, according to local media reports.

An editorial in the Beijing News blamed related government departments for not actively shouldering their responsibilities and leaving gaps in terms of the prevention of natural disasters.

China's Land and Resources Minister Xu Shaoshi, who visited the disaster area over the weekend, told Xinhua that "the (Zhaojiagou) landslide reminded us of the need to carry out geological disaster prevention and treatment whether it is flood season or not."

Some villagers suspected that the landslide was triggered by activities at a nearby coal mine. However, the investigation team denied there was any connection.

"The Gaopo coal mine is the only one in the area. The straight-line distance between the boundary of the mining area and the landslide site is 500 meters. According to the on-site inspection and causal analysis of the landslide, there was no direct relationship between the landslide and mining activities," explained Jiang.

The last person recorded missing due to the landslide, which buried houses, traffic and livestock, was pulled from the mud on Saturday at noon. The final death toll stood at 46, including 19 children. Two people were hospitalized and remain in a stable state.

The landslide covered an area 120 meters long, 110 meters wide and 16 meters deep, leading to a loss of 45.5 million yuan ($7.3 million).

The relief efforts have been shifted to the resettlement of the stricken villagers and reconstruction work efforts. The residents have been provided with adequate relief materials like food and tents, but as it is too cold to live in the tents, many villagers have chosen to go to their relatives and friends for shelter.

According to weather forecasts, rain and snow will hit the region over the coming week. With 629 residents in 136 households threatened by potential geological disasters, the local government has arranged personnel for 24-hour monitoring and is organizing relocation efforts for the affected residents, said Chen Xiangjin, the deputy Party secretary of Zhenxiong.

Meanwhile, Zhou Zhezhe, a reporter who didn't identify her news organization, claimed on Sina Weibo that the bodies of all 46 victims were incinerated by the local government on Sunday without consulting the victims' families, adding that the angry villagers have blocked the roads, demanding an explanation from the government.

She said the government had previously promised the victims' families that they could choose to bury or incinerate the bodies of the victims once the government was done cleaning up the bodies.

The accusation couldn't be immediately verified.

Xinhua contributed to this story

Posted in: Society