Rescuers Tuesday recovered five more bodies buried under the iron-ore sludge in Shanxi province, taking the death toll to 259.
However, the exact number of people missing in the tragedy is still not known as a wall of the liquid iron-ore waste dump broke, causing a massive mudslide eight days ago.
A damaged house is seen at the mudslide area in Xiangfen county, Shanxi province, September 11, 2008. [Agencies]
The sludge buried Yunhe village and a market spread over 30 acres in Xiangfen county.
Three of the bodies found Tuesday were buried under a collapsed house; one was found in debris outside and the fifth beside the collapsed iron ore dump, rescuers said.
Altogether, 159 bodies have been identified, and cremations will start soon. Of the 34 injured admitted to hospital, the condition of four is serious.
The local government announced a compensation packager for the victims yesterday, saying a family would be paid 200,000 yuan ($29,300) for the loss of a member. Those who have been disabled would get between 50,000 yuan and 150,000 yuan, along with a monthly subsidy of 100 yuan to 300 yuan.
The rescue headquarters said over the weekend that workers had cleared the sludge and searched almost the entire area, but still quite a number of families were waiting to know the fate of their missing loved ones.
More than 300 rescuers, with over 30 excavators, are still searching for bodies, Lian Zhendong, the rescue operation chief, said. They have concentrated their search to places pointed out by families whose members are still missing.
"We will not call off the rescue operation now We will do our best to help the families of the missing," he said.
The disaster relief headquarters has sent policemen and government employees to conduct a "door-to-door" check in the villages around Yunhe, which are home to many migrant workers.
A 47-year-old man surnamed Shi said officials should find the cause of the tragedy and punish those responsible for it as soon as possible. He lost his brother in the landslide, and the fate of four of his other relatives is still not known.
Liu Xiangjuan, 48, is waiting for news of her husband. A mother of two, she was laid off years ago, and her husband is the sole breadwinner of the family.
"Those guilty, especially officials who were hand in glove with the mine owner, should be severely punished," Liu said.
Tashan Mine was carrying on operations without a valid license and, some people allege, did not do anything to stop the dump wall from bursting despite knowing it was filled beyond capacity.
Previous reports had said a heavy downpour triggered the mudslide, but Xinhua citied meteorological experts to question the claim. The last shower before the mudslide deposited only 2 mm rain.
An initial investigation has found the mudslide was caused by negligence. The waste ore dump was built in contravention of rules and it had not been checked for safety for a long time.
To prevent such accidents, the State Council, the country's cabinet, has ordered a nationwide safety inspection of similar sites.