By DIDI TANG
No signs of life have been detected at a gold mining site in a mountainous area of Tibet more than 24 hours after a massive landslide buried 83 workers, Chinese state media said Saturday.
The state-run China Central Television said more than 2,000 rescuers have been dispatched to Lhasa’s Maizhokunggar county to search for the buried.
About 2 million cubic meters (2.6 million cubic yards) of mud, rock and debris swept through the area as the workers were resting and covered an area measuring around 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles), CCTV said.
The miners worked for a subsidiary of the China National Gold Group Corp., a state-owned enterprise and the country’s largest gold producer. A woman who answered the call at its Beijing headquarters Saturday said she could not provide any information.
The disaster is likely to inflame critics of Chinese rule in Tibet who say Beijing’s interests are driven by the region’s mineral wealth and strategic position and come at the expense of the region’s delicate ecosystem and Tibetans’ Buddhist culture and traditional way of life.
The reports said at least two of the buried workers were Tibetan while most of the workers were believed to be ethnic Han Chinese, a reflection of how such large projects often create an influx of the majority ethnic group into the region.
The more than 2,000 police, firefighters, soldiers and medics deployed to the site, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) east of Lhasa, the regional capital, conducted searches armed with devices to detect signs of life and accompanied by sniffer dogs, reports said.
Around 30 excavators were also digging away at the site late Friday as temperatures fell to just below freezing.
The reports said the landslide was caused by a “natural disaster” but did not provide specifics. It was unclear why the first news reports of the landslide came out several hours after it occurred.
China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang ordered authorities to “spare no efforts” in their rescue work, Xinhua said.
Doctors at the local county hospital said they had been told to prepare to receive survivors but none had arrived. “We were ordered to make all efforts to receive the injured,” said a doctor who gave only her surname, Ge, in the hospital’s emergency section.
On Saturday morning, a hospital staff member who gave her surname of Wu said it had received no one from the landslide, dead or alive.
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.
In 2008, unhappiness with Chinese rule spilled over into deadly riots that engulfed Lhasa and an anti-government uprising that swept many Tibetan communities. To quell the unrest, Beijing poured security forces into Tibetan areas and has kept them there since, giving the western China region the feel of a military garrison and further alienating many Tibetans.
In recent years, more than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest the stifling security presence and call for greater religious freedom.