Chinatopix / AP Photo

Scores missing after massive landslide in China

Seven people were rescued overnight, 13 were hospitalized, including three with life-threatening injuries

Rescuers were searching Monday for at least 91 missing people a day after a mountain of excavated soil and construction waste buried dozens of buildings when it swept through an industrial park in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

China's official Xinhua News Agency said the landslide Sunday buried or damaged 33 buildings in the industrial park in Shenzhen, a major manufacturing center in Guangdong province across the border from Hong Kong that makes products used around the world ranging from cellphones to cars.

Aerial photos on the microblog of the Public Security Ministry's Firefighting Bureau showed the area awash in a sea of red mud, with several buildings either knocked on their side or collapsed entirely.

The frequency of accidents in China's industrial areas has raised questions about safety standards following three decades of breakneck economic growth.

Posts on the microblog said mud had thoroughly infused many of the buildings, leaving the "room of survival extremely small."

Just seven people were rescued overnight and 13 overall were hospitalized, including three with life-threatening injuries, according to state broadcaster China Central Television, or CCTV, which cited rescue leaders.

Persistent rain fell in the area on Monday, although it wasn't clear whether that was hampering rescue efforts.

Cellphone camera video of the noontime disaster run by state broadcaster China Central Television, or CCTV, showed the massive wall of debris slamming into the buildings and sending up huge plumes of dust.

Peng Jinxin said the mud came like "huge waves," as residents ran out of the way.

"At one point the running mud was only ten metres away from me," Peng told the official Xinhua news agency.

Details are beginning to emerge about the cause of the landslide that authorities now say covered an area of 1 million square feet with up to 20 feet of mud. A landslide last month that engulfed 27 homes in rural Zhejiang province killed 38 people and in August, a landslide buried dozens of mine workers.

The Ministry of Land and Resources said the debris originated with a steep, man-made mountain of dirt, cement chunks and other construction waste that had been piled up against a 330-foot-high hill over the past two years.

Heavy rains in the region adjacent to Hong Kong had saturated the soil, making it increasingly unstable and ultimately causing it to collapse with massive force.

"The pile was too big, the pile was too steep, leading to instability and collapse," the ministry said, adding that the original, natural hill remained intact.

The Ministry said it had dispatched additional personnel to help monitor the situation and guard against a second collapse.

The 33 damaged or collapsed buildings included 14 factories, two office buildings, one cafeteria, three dormitories and 13 sheds or workshops, Shenzhen Deputy Mayor Liu Qingsheng said at a news conference.

Nearly 1,500 people were involved in rescue efforts, aided by 151 cranes, backhoes and other construction equipment along with along with rescue dogs and specialized life-detecting equipment.

CCTV said Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang issued orders to make rescuing those trapped the top priority.

The initial landslide sparked an explosion in a section of a natural gas pipeline owned by China's top oil and gas producer, PetroChina. By Monday morning, the fire was extinguished and a temporary section of pipe was being laid.

Xinhua said that as of Monday morning, 59 men and 32 women were missing in the landslide. No deaths were reported so far.

Li Yikang, the deputy secretary general of the Shenzhen city government, said at a televised news conference that more than 900 people had been evacuated. He said that nearly 1,500 people were involved in rescue efforts.

State broadcaster China Central Television, or CCTV, said that there was a residential area next to the industrial zone, and that the buildings buried included two workers' dormitories.

Ren Jiguang, the deputy chief of Shenzhen's public security bureau, told CCTV that most people had been moved to safety before the landslide hit.

State media carried photos of what looked like at least one five-story building leaning over and partly crumpled in the industrial park, and a sea of brown soil covering a vast area around it.

The landslide is the fourth major disaster to strike China this year following a deadly New Year's Day stampede in Shanghai, the capsizing of a cruise ship in the Yangtze River and a massive explosion at a chemicals warehouse in Tianjian on the coast near Beijing.

Human error has been suspected or confirmed in all three previous disasters, pointing to an often callous attitude toward safety despite the threat of harsh penalties.

Three decades of headlong economic growth have been catching up with China in terms of safety and damage to the environment. Many of the country's major cities suffer from chronic air pollution and Beijing on Monday was enduring a four-day smog red alert that forced schools to close, factories to curtail production and half the city's cars off the roads.

The Associated Press

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