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Chinese rescuers search rubble after massive landslide buries buildings

Published 21/12/2015

Rescuers are continuing the search for 85 people still missing a day after the collapse of a mountain of excavated soil and construction waste that had been piled up over two years in southern China.

Authorities said the landslide buried or damaged 33 buildings in the industrial park in Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong that makes products used around the world ranging from mobile phones to cars.

Residents blamed the government while officials cited human error, with one ministry saying: "The pile was too big, the pile was too steep."

The landslide covered an area of 380,000 square metres with silt 10 metres deep.

At least 16 people were taken to hospital, including children, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Shenzhen government said seven trapped people had been rescued and 85 others remained missing on Monday evening. Earlier in the day it had said 91 people were missing and seven rescued, but it gave no explanation for the change in numbers. No deaths have been reported.

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

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

In Sunday's landslide, the Ministry of Land and Resources said a steep man-made mountain of dirt, cement chunks and other construction waste had been piled up against a hill over the past two years.

Heavy rains in the region saturated the soil, making it heavy and 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 remains intact.

Some residents blamed government negligence.

"If the government had taken proper measures in the first place, we would not have had this problem," said Chen Chengli.

Chen's neighbour Yi Jimin said the disaster was not an act of nature.

"Heavy rains and a collapse of a mountain are natural disasters, but this wasn't a natural disaster, this was man-made," Yi said.

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

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

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