The Times: Shenzhen families raised fears over illegal heap of mud

22 December 2015

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

Calum MacLeod Beijing

Last updated at 12:01AM, December 22 2015

Workers and residents in Shenzhen, one of China’s wealthiest cities, had warned the government for two years about the dangers posed by a rising heap of construction waste on its outskirts.

The dumping continued until it inevitably crashed down on Sunday in waves of mud that killed at least 85 people. The impending risk of disaster seemed obvious and the site was even ordered to close in July, yet dumping continued until the steep pile reached the height of a 20-storey building.

The tragedy marked the latest of many manmade disasters in a nation where the rush to develop and turn a profit often overwhelms safety procedures, even in the best-run areas.

Scrambling over the sea of mud yesterday, 3,000 soldiers, firefighters and other rescue workers hunted for survivors across 25 acres of ravaged land about 22 miles from Hong Kong.

The rescuers used cranes, excavators and dogs but the chances of finding life appeared grim. The mud made a “tight seal” within buildings, leaving little room for those trapped, a firefighter said on an internet site.

Police blocked access to the rescue site, frustrating desperate relatives, including a woman whose fiancé was missing. “Our wedding is in ten days. Why is this happening?” she cried. Peng Chuxin had gone to his father’s cement plant on Sunday morning with both his parents to collect goods for their wedding, reported theSouth China Morning Post. Only his father escaped, by grabbing on to a lorry that was swept downhill. Many survivors were angry about a disaster they had told the government to prevent.

“I was very worried,” said a printing plant owner, named only as Mr Zhou, 32. “I saw the dump trucks every day and the waste pile getting higher and higher. I once telephoned the mayor’s hotline and an official said they would handle it but there was no further response. My employees all did the same.”

Mr Zhou said that an environmental report in January warned of landslide risks at the site. In July, authorities ordered the dump to close, according to papers on a local government website.

“Risks like this exist in all of China’s fast-developing cities,” said Xiong Yang, a former waste management engineer who is now a campaigner for Green River, an environmental protection charity group. “The government gave the dump site to an enterprise to operate for profit,” he said. Mr Xiong blamed the landslide on government dereliction of duty.

Geoffrey Crothall, of China Labour Bulletin, a workers’ rights group, said: “This is all too common in China. Workers don’t have a powerful enough voice to be heard.”

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