Rescuers searching a Chinese industrial park swamped by a landslide recovered the first body on Tuesday, as anger mounted over safety failings that led to a disaster feared to have killed dozens.
It is the latest in a series of fatal accidents in China and comes months after almost 200 people died in a massive chemical blast in the port city of Tianjin.
Hopes for those still missing in the mud were fading on Tuesday, even as heavy machinery raked through thousands of tonnes of soil and rubble that buried factories and residential buildings.
There were still 81 people unaccounted for at the landslide site in Shenzhen, state broadcaster CCTV reported. The body recovered on Tuesday morning was the first confirmed death.
The mudslide was caused by the improper storage of waste soil from construction sites, according to the official newspaper of the Ministry of Land and Resources.
Soil was illegally stored in heaps 100 metres (330 feet) high at an old quarry site and turned to mud during rain on Sunday morning, the state-run Global Times said.
Commenters on China’s popular Weibo microgblogging voiced fury over the apparent failings.
“The lack of safety supervision and passive attitude in taking precautions has caused the whole nation to shake with anger and shocked the world!” user Xizidan wrote in a post that was taken down by authorities, but found on the censorship tracking website Weiboscope.
The post said people were angry over accidents including the blasts at Tianjin in August, the sinking of a ferry on the Yangtze river in June that killed more than 400, and a stampede in Shanghai last New Year’s Eve that left over 30 dead.
“Through man-made disasters, we’re continually using other people’s lives to achieve progress in society,” another post said, echoing a common complaint that China’s rapid economic growth has been achieved at the expense of many of its people.
‘Waves of earth’
The Shenzhen dumping site had been operating for two years, according to locals interviewed by China National Radio.
During that time, villagers repeatedly complained to the government about round-the-clock noise and traffic congestion, but never received a response, according to a separate report by portal Shenzhen News.
Back at the disaster zone, volunteers hoping to help search for bodies said chances were slim for survivors.
“I don’t think there will be a chance (to save anybody), because it has been some time (since the landslide), and it is dirt and sand,” said one woman who gave her name as Qin.
Emergency workers were on Tuesday using backhoes in an effort to clear the mud. Many had spent the night on the site.
People who saw the Sunday morning landslide described “huge waves” of red earth and mud racing towards the industrial park, burying or crushing homes and factories.
Drone footage showed how the mud had swept through and over buildings and tossed aside trucks like toys.
“We’re worried for the people that live nearby,” a woman from a neighbouring village, who didn’t identify herself, told AFP.
“We didn’t hear that this area was dangerous,” she added.
Around 900 people were moved out of harm’s way before the landslide struck. Four people have been rescued, of whom three had minor injuries.