WULONG, Chongqing: Rescue workers were Sunday trying to blast through the debris of a landslide amid frantic efforts to locate scores of people believed trapped under a mountain of rocks, officials said.
Seven have been confirmed dead, and of the 65 missing, it is believed that only 27 miners, trapped 200 m below ground with millions of tons of solid rock above their heads, may survive the landslide that shook the ground at 3 pm on Friday at Jiwei Mountain, about 175 km southeast of urban Chongqing.
Rescuers and locals held out little hope for the survival of remaining 21 villagers, 18 miners who worked above ground, two telecommunications company workers and four passers-by, including students.
Twelve homes in Hongbao village in the valley were also buried, said rescuers. Relatives who tried to get close to the scene were blocked by rescuers.
Survivors said the landslide - that buried a dozen homes and an iron ore mine in the mountainous region - could have been because of excessive drilling and mining, and local officials pledged that anyone found responsible would be held to account.
Waiting for news about trapped relatives and neighbors, survivors said the tragedy could have been avoided if an early warning had been given.
Many said they saw rocks rolling down the valley days before the landslide. But miners who escaped the landslide said the owners ordered them to continue drilling.
"Some rocks that fell were very big," said Luo Dayong, a 39-year-old villager housed in one of the relief tents holding some 20 families since Saturday, as he waited anxiously for news of his elder brother - one of the trapped miners.
"But no one warned us. Now everything has turned upside down," he told China Daily.
The entire east side of Jiwei mountain looked as if it had been chopped down, with rocks as large as the bulldozers that were used to move them.
Late Sunday night, rescuers were drilling down debris 200-300 m deep to connect with the entrance to the mine, but it may take days to reach the miners trapped 200 m below ground.
Authorities estimated that the air and water supply in the mine could support them for five to seven days.
By 5 pm Sunday, rescuers located what was believed to be the mine's office, where the license and accounts books were found. They also dug out children's comic books.
"Perhaps the only survivors will be 27 miners down there, because there is still some water down the mine," said Du Wenming, director of the local rescue team.
Ai Yang, spokesman for the Chongqing municipal government, also sounded optimistic about the trapped miners.
"We still are holding out hope for the miners trapped underground, but there are only faint hopes for those buried under rubble.
"Life-monitoring sensors have not found any signs of life. As long as there is even slim hope, we will make every effort both at ground level and underground."
The mine has been in operation since the 1920s before private miners bought it from the government in 2003.
As the rain continued Sunday, raising fears of new landslides, Chongqing Mayor Wang Pengju told China Daily that the mine owners were told to help rescuers locate the survivors.
The massive slide also dammed up the Wujiang river, leading to concerns that rising waters on a landslide-formed lake would lead to a bursting of the dam, flooding communities below, rescuers warned.
Cui Xiaohuo contributed to the story