Rescuers carry a body from the site of a rain-triggered mudslide in Xiangfen county in China's Shanxi province. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Death toll rises from mud flow in Chinese village

HONG KONG: Three days after the rain-soaked reservoir of an unlicensed mine in central China collapsed, unleashing a cascade of iron-ore waste and mud on a village, the death toll has risen to 151.

The China Daily newspaper warned that several hundred more people might be missing under the dense sludge, but the official Xinhua news agency was more cautious and said that the number of missing could not yet be determined.

The Chinese government assembled 1,550 rescuers equipped with 160 bulldozers, excavators and other machines to comb through the sludge for survivors.

The unlicensed mine is in Xiangfen County, in Shanxi Province. After torrential rains, the retaining wall of the holding pond, on a hillside, collapsed around 8 a.m. on Monday, the news report said, sending a wall of sludge and mud hurtling down into the village of Yunhe. China Daily said the entire village was inundated, along with an outdoor market crowded with customers, news agencies reported.

Workers at the mine were mostly farmers from the area and migrants, and estimates ranged widely on how many people might have been swept under the sea of sludge.

Wang Jun, the director of the State Administration of Work Safety, was reported to be personally heading the rescue teams, and President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao both promised that every effort would be made to find villagers who lived through the accident and to investigate what went wrong.

Xinhua reported that the State Council, China's cabinet, had created an investigation team with national and provincial officials.

All that was left after the mudslide was a handful of two-story buildings on the fringe of the sludge, which spanned an area the size of four football fields, according to The Associated Press.

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