BEIJING (AP) — Searchers were continuing to look for miners buried when a landslide swept through a gold mine in an extensively cleared area of Tibet, but authorities said chances were slim any survivors would be found. Twenty-one bodies have been recovered from the mudslide that buried 83 workers in piles of earth up to 30 meters deep.
The landslide Friday has spotlighted the extensive mining China has encouraged in the mountainous region and questions have been raised about whether the activities have destroyed Tibet's ecosystem.
The slide covered around 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) in Gyama village in Maizhokunggar county, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) east of the regional capital, Lhasa.
Searchers had found 21 bodies by Sunday night and were searching for the rest, the official China National Radio said. Chances were slim of finding anyone alive, the state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted the Communist Party deputy secretary for Tibet, Wu Yingjie, as saying.
The miners worked for Huatailong Mining Development, a subsidiary of the China National Gold Group Corp., a state-owned enterprise and the country's largest gold producer. Beijing says the cause of the disaster has yet to be fully investigated, although state media say the mudslide was caused by a "natural disaster," without giving specifics.
Criticisms over possibly excessive mining in Tibet flashed through China's social media before they were scrubbed off or blocked from public view by censors.
Btan Tundop, a Tibetan resident, noted the Huatailong mine's dominance in the area in a short-lived microblog: "The entire Maizhokunggar has been taken over by China National Gold Group. Local Tibetans say the county and the village might as well be called Huatailong."
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.
Wangchuktseten, a Tibetan scholar at Northwest University of Nationalities in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, said he was most worried about the environment. "The Tibetan plateau is considered the lungs of Asia," he said. "Those short-sighted mining activities chase after quick benefits but ignore the environment for future generations."
State media said that two of the buried workers are Tibetans, and that two are women.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang ordered authorities to "spare no efforts" in their rescue work, state media have reported.