CHINA> Regional
Governor quits; slush toll hits 254
(China Daily)
Updated: 2008-09-15 07:29

Taiyuan - The Shanxi province governor resigned, and vice-governor was removed, for the liquid iron-ore waste flow in Xiangfen county that has killed 254 people.

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Meng Xuenong's resignation was accepted at the fifth session of the standing committee of the 11th Shanxi provincial people's congress, which removed Vice-Governor Zhang Jianmin, too.

Wang Jun, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, has been appointed acting and vice-governor of Shanxi. The 56-year-old was named head of the top work safety watchdog in March.

Kang Haiyin, Party chief of Xiangfen county, and Li Xuejun, the county magistrate, have been suspended from duty.

Of the 254 dead, the identities of 128 have been established. Officials said the hundreds of thousands of tons sludge from Tashan Mine's iron-ore dump had displaced 1,047 people.

The accident occurred around 8 am on Sept 8 when one of the walls of the dump collapsed, inundating a village and a market downhill. The Tashan Mine was operating without a mining license, officials said.

Initial estimates show the direct economic loss from the accident in Yunhe village would be 9.18 million yuan ($1.34 million).

Rescue workers have combed more than 90 percent of the area under sludge. And it could take several more days to finish clearing the waste from two channels, where more bodies are feared to have been buried.

Over the past few days, more than 2,500 people and 2,800 policemen have taken part in the rescue operation, and have been helped by 2,100 medics and doctors.

Rescuers have begun a new round of search along and inside a 300-m-long ditch by removing the sludge.

"This is the toughest phase of the rescue operation," Lian Zhendong, chief of the rescue headquarters, said. "But we will do our best to finish the search in three to five days."

"Our job is to take care of the rescuers now," Yang Xuming, a Xiangfen county health bureau official, said. "They almost looked like collapsing after several days of continuous work."

The State Council, the country's cabinet, formed an accident investigation team on Thursday, with Wang Jun calling it "the gravest accident involving the most number of deaths this year, which has caused huge loss and given the administration a bad name".

A preliminary probe partly blames local officials for the accident.

"The old waste dump was a potential danger," Luo Guoyou, a Chongqing resident working in the mine, said. "But the boss was too stingy to build a new one."

Luo's wife is still missing, and feared to have been buried by the sludge-slide.

Zhang Jiping, a Yunhe villager, told Xinhua that "no one dared to blow the whistle on the mine owner because he was so rich that he could settle everything with money".

Meng, born in August 1949, is a native of Penglai, Shandong province.

He was elected mayor of Beijing in January 2003 but was removed for failing to respond properly to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in April the same year.

In September 2003, Meng was appointed deputy director of the Office of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project Construction Committee of the State Council.

He was named deputy secretary to the CPC Shanxi provincial committee on Aug 30, 2007, and elected vice-governor and acting governor of the province on Sept 3 of the same year.

In January this year, Meng was elected governor at the provincial people's congress.