Environmental Neglect Results in Tragedy

11 July 2001
Mountainside Mudslide at Copper Mine

A mudslide at a copper mine 270 kilometres north east of the city of Kunming in China’s southwestern Yunnan province buried dozens of people on the morning of July 9th, 2001. Local police confirmed that 15 people were killed in the accident and 22 injured. A further six people were still missing as of July 11.

The Kunming City East Prefecture Copper Mine has been in operation since the start of the Qing dynasty 350 years ago and serves as an economic lifeline for the local economy. However local geologists and meteorologists told Hong Kong reporters that unregulated mining activity had destroyed the local environment, leaving the mountainside bare of any vegetation. They said that local mining and government officials had consistently ignored safety and environmental factors and solely concentrated on copper excavation. As a result, landslides were common and in 1985, 121 workers and local people were killed in a similar tragedy.

Until recently the remote mine employed up to 20,000 people, but a fall in copper prices has led to large-scale layoffs.

Local officials had reportedly taken charge of the rescue operation, which involved over 500 people including army personnel. However, the rescuers were unable to bring in heavy machinery to assist in the operation due to poor roads. They were relying on shovels and muscle to get people out of the mud that had buried three-story buildings in places.

(HK: Mingpao, 11/07/01)
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