Threat of Second Landslide Hampers Rescue Efforts in Sichuan
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2017-06-26 11:34:31

With the 72-hour window during which survivors are most likely to be found alive closing fast, rescue work in disaster-stricken Mao County was stopped on Monday for fear of a second landslide.

The village of Xinmo, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, was buried under a meters-high layer of debris after a mountainside collapsed on early Saturday morning. Rescue workers have since discovered 10 bodies, but 93 people remain missing.

At around 11 a.m. on Monday, local officials said that radar equipment had detected minor geologic movement at the site of the natural disaster, meaning a second landslide is highly likely, state news agency Xinhua reported. Rescue teams and media were required to evacuate.

So far 10 bodies have been found, and 93 people are still missing in the wake of a massive landslide that hit Sichuan province on Saturday.

So far, the only people to escape Saturday’s landslide were Qiao Dashuai, his wife, and their month-old newborn. The mountain came thundering down at around 5:45 a.m., after the young parents had been awoken by their baby, who needed a clean diaper. Qiao told Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, that he had just got out of bed, feeling annoyed, when their house started to shake. A stream of water crashed through their window, followed by a deluge of mud and stones. “I swallowed water,” he said. “I thought I was going to die.”

Clutching their child, the couple ran out of their house. They screamed for help, but nobody answered. And nobody followed them: The other villagers were buried by the landslide, including Qiao’s parents, grandmother, and 3-year-old daughter.

The only other sign of life was heard at around 3 p.m. on Saturday, when rescue workers noticed that there was one woman still alive under the rubble. However, when they finally reached her two hours later, she had died.

The area is no stranger to natural disasters. In 2008, the Great Wenchuan Earthquake — its epicenter just 40 kilometers away — killed more than 3,900 people in Mao County. And in 1933, 6,800 people died after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit a neighboring town.

Tian Tingshan, a geological disaster expert at the Ministry of Land and Resources, told Xinhua that the Wenchuan quake had decreased the stability of all the mountains in province, meaning heavy rain could more easily trigger landslides.

However, Xu Xiwei, deputy director of the Institute of Geology at the China Earthquake Administration, told China Science Daily that most of the mountainsides in Mao County are very steep, which makes landslides more likely.

Because of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, staff at the Mao County People’s Hospital are familiar with dealing with emergencies: Personnel were mobilized on Saturday, waiting for survivors that, so far, have yet to be found. “When we saw the news, the hospital started to prepare immediately,” Xu Feng, head of internal medicine, told The Paper. “We’ve been waiting downstairs ever since.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Relatives of victims stand on the stones that came down with the landslide, destroying everything in their path, Mao County, Sichuan province, June 25, 2017. VCG)