China landslide: No hope for survivors

2012-10-05 08:33

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Beijing - Rescuers have found the bodies of all 18 children buried when a landslide engulfed their primary school in China as they made up classes lost due to recent deadly earthquakes, state media said on Friday.

The landslide, triggered by sustained rains, buried the school and three farmhouses on Thursday in the village of Zhenhe in Yunnan province where a pair of earthquakes last month killed 81 people and injured hundreds.

Any last hope for survivors evaporated early on Friday when rescuers pulled the body of the last missing child from the landslide debris, China National Radio said in a report on its website.

The disaster in the village of Zhenhe is likely to raise questions over why the children had been brought back into the school, located in a deep mountain valley, when the rest of China was on a week-long national holiday.

But local officials have said the children needed to make up class time lost due to disruptions stemming from the 7 September earthquakes.

China has a highly competitive education system built around cramming for high-stress testing that determines entry into good schools later.

A local villager also was buried under the rubble and has yet to be found by rescuers, China National Radio said.

State media reports initially identified the school as the Youfang Primary School, but subsequent reports have said its official name is the Tiantou Primary School.

School safety is a sensitive issue in China after thousands of students died when an 8.0-magnitude tremor centred in Sichuan province rocked the southwest of the country in 2008.

Giant landslides

Many schools collapsed in that quake, which killed more than 80 000 people.

This led to accusations that corner-cutting in construction projects and possibly corruption led to shoddy buildings, especially as many buildings near such schools held firm.

There have so far been no such allegations in the Yunnan landslide.

However, like many schools, homes, and other structures in the rugged region, the disaster-hit primary school was located at the base of steep slopes.

Mountainous southwestern China is prone to deadly landslides, a threat worsened by frequent seismic activity.

The 2008 earthquake triggered giant landslides that left whole mountainsides scarred.

The students killed in Thursday's landslide were from another school who were brought in to study because their own school had been too heavily damaged in last month's quakes, state-run Xinhua news agency said.

The two 5.6-magnitude quakes left more than 820 people injured and 201 000 displaced in the poor region.

Thursday's landslide also blocked a nearby river, creating a lake and forcing the evacuation of more than 800 residents living downstream, the agency said.

Almost 2 000 people had been mobilised to unblock the waterway and help in the rescue, it said.

At least 30 students had been scheduled to resume classes at the school in Zhenhe. Those who were unharmed by the landslide will resume classes at a nearby school, Xinhua said.

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