|Rescuers and villagers look for survivors at a primary school hit by a mudslide in Yunnan province on Thursday. Nineteen people, including 18 students, were buried. [Photo by Long Jiao/for China Daily]|
Nineteen people buried by a landslide in Yunnan province, including 18 elementary students, were confirmed dead on Friday.
The disaster happened in Zhenhe, a village in the northeast corner of the province, at about 8:10 am on Thursday when Tiantou Primary School and three homes were engulfed, trapping the students and a farmer.
Authorities confirmed on Friday that the bodies of those buried have been found, while another villager, who was seriously injured, is in a stable condition at a temporary medical station.
Premier Wen Jiabao arrived at the site on Friday afternoon. He laid a wreath to pay tribute to the victims and expressed condolence to bereaved parents.
He stressed the safety of schools will be the top priority during the reconstruction work.
The victims' families will each receive 20,000 yuan ($3,160) in compensation, officials said. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.
"We've asked land and resource departments to study the landslide and disclose the cause to the public as soon as possible," Liu Jianhua, mayor of Zhaotong city, said at the scene on Friday.
The mudslide, which involved an estimated 160,000 cubic meters of earth, also blocked a river, forming an area of water 15 meters wide and 7 meters deep, according to the Yiliang county government, which administers Zhenhe village. More than 800 residents living on the lower reaches of the river have been moved to safer locations.
"It was horrible," said villager Qin Fuhui, describing the disaster. "I called others to help the students, but I was ordered to leave the scene after rescuers arrived."
Rescuers were on Friday continuing to drain water from the affected area.
Almost 2,000 people are working at the scene, including Chen Dairong, head of the rescue team. He said it was a very hard mission, largely due to the continuous rainfall.
"We initially used dogs to find the buried victims and then used digging machinery to move the earth," he said.
Liu Chaowen, an officer with Zhaotong's fire service, said the students were buried at the gate of the school, which was too narrow for mechanical diggers. He said rescuers had to dig with their hands and small tools.
"Those students may have run to the gate as the landslide started to engulf the building," he said.
All of the students killed in the accident were from Shangba Primary School, according to the county's education bureau, which added that they had been taking part in Golden Week classes to make up lost time after the earthquakes last month.
Multiple tremors struck Yiliang on Sept 7, killing 81 people and injuring 800 others. Three teaching buildings at Shangba Primary School were demolished due to damage sustained during the earthquake, resulting in more than 30 students being transferred to nearby Tiantou Primary School.
The students had been preparing to start class at 9 am when the tragedy occurred on Thursday, the education bureau said.
Peng Hong, a spokesman for Yiliang county, said rain has drenched the area for more than 20 days, meaning workmen have been unable to begin the rebuilding work since the earthquakes.
Xinhua contributed to this story.