14 June 2009

The Chongqing landslide – the rescue is probably about to be abandoned

Posted by Dave Petley

Xinhua is reporting that the rescue at the Chongqing landslide is likely to be abandoned shortly. Given the length of time that has elapsed since the failure the chances of rescuing the miners alive are now very small. More worryingly, there is an increasing risk of further failures at the site:

According to a geologist with the rescue headquarters who declined to be identified, cracks with the span of eight to ten meters wide and up to 30 meters deep have appeared on the landslide-induced hills. “If the 1.75 million cubic meters of soil and rocks fell down from 80 to 100 meters high, another massive landslide shall occur,” he said. Four remaining big stones that stood on the edge of the mountains are also likely to slip off when it rains, he said. Two landslides of smaller scale forced suspension of rescue work twice early Friday morning. The landslide site has entered the flood season, and landslide-induced lakes are likely to trigger mud-rock flows, said Zhu Xiansheng, head of the water conservancy bureau of Chongqing.”

Such rescues are always a balance between the benefits of successfully rescuing the victims and the risks to the search teams. Given the time that has elapsed, the difficulties involved in the operation and the lack of indications that the miners are alive, the increasing risks to the rescue teams do suggest that stopping the operation is probably prudent, even though it is a very difficult decision to make. Thirty metre deep cracks that are widening are a strong indication that all is not well on the hillside, although failure is certainly not inevitable.