21 September 2010

Tangjiashan again – and a possible new Chinese flowslide

Posted by Dave Petley

Back in 2008 I dedicated a great deal of space on this blog to the extraordinary efforts by the Chinese Army to draining the landslide lake at Tangjiashan, just above the town of Beichuan, which was created by the May 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. 

 These efforts were ultimately successful, but in my visit to the site in Spring 2009 it was clear that a threat remained at the site in the form of another block of material that was showing signs of deformation. Over the last few days this area has received very high levels of rainfall.  Yesterday, Xinhua reported that a 300,000 cubic metre block has detached from the scarp above the barrier, and blocked the river to a depth of 10 metres:

“More than 6,200 residents were relocated Tuesday as torrential rains pounded Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, local authorities said Tuesday…Some 300,000 cubic meters of debris brought by the landslide caused a dam, blocking the lake’s outlet. The dam’s lowest point is 10 meters higher than the present water level, the statement said.  Debris still continue to come down from the hills, and if there were more rains, then the lake level would further rise, threatening the lives of people in nearby townships.The rains had disrupted the normal life of 58,000 local residents in the county, causing huge economic losses, the statement said.”

China is well-versed in dealing with these hazards, but given the magnitude of the destruction in the Beichuan area, such events must cause great heart-ache.

It is clear that the elevated level of landslide activity in the aftermath of the landslide is a major issue.  I am travelling to Chengdu on Sunday, so will see whether I can ascertain more information about these issues.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports a probable flowslide failure in a tin mine in Guangdong yesterday:

Zijin Mining Group Co. said a dam built to hold tin-mining waste collapsed in China’s Guangdong province following torrential rain, less than three months after one of its copper mines leaked toxic waste into a river.About 60 centimeters (24 inches) of rain from Typhoon Fanapi and mud and rock slides triggered the accident at the company’s Yinyan tin mine at about 10 a.m. local time today, Shanghang, Fujian province-based Zijin said in a statement. 

China has been impacted by a series of these events in recent years, including one that caused multiple fatalities in 2008.  There appears to be a strong need to improve the safety of these facilities before another major accident occurs.