Three days of searching through the ruins of a massive landslide in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen finally revealed a survivor at around 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 23, as relief workers dug out Tian Zeming, a 21-year-old who had survived by gnawing on roasted melon seeds and grapefruit.
Tian (whose age was also given as 19 in other reports) was able to engage in simple conversation when he was dug out, ending a 67-hour ordeal. He is still very weak, however, and his right leg has begun showing early signs of gangrene after being crushed under concrete and rubble, according to Chinese media reports.
He pointed rescuers to a second individual nearby, but doctors found he was already dead.
The leader of the rescue team, part of the local paramilitary force, said it took them 61 hours of excavating to find Tian at a depth of around 15 meters (49 feet). “I’m here! I’m here!” Tian yelled, his hand grasped by rescuers as they cleared the rubble around him. Tian had moved to Shenzhen only about 10 days earlier, taking up a position at a local hardware company.
According to the Ministry of Land and Resources in China, the landslide was caused by a mountain of dirt and construction rubbish that had been accumulating on a nearby hill for nearly two years. When it came apart, the mass of material—sometimes over 20 meters deep, and around 70 football fields in area—buried or destroyed over 30 buildings in the valley below.
None of the soil that composed the actual hill itself was part of the landslide—only the man-made pile of building waste.
Chen Yong, a Chengdu-based geologist, told Radio Free Asia in an interview that the piled-up construction waste isn’t an isolated incident.
“Many construction projects in China overlook geological safety, and the unorganized piling up of construction dirt is very common. Floods have occurred by rivers being blocked up with dirt in mountain areas many times in the past,” he said.
But, Chen added, “the fundamental reasons that lie behind these accidents are never dug through when conducting the investigation.”
In this instance, the company involved is being investigated. The industrial zone in which the disaster took place, the Guangming New Area, is managed by Shenzhen Yixianglong Investment and Development Ltd. The company’s deputy director, Yu Shengli, was taken away by police on Dec. 22, Chinese media reported.
Information from local government agencies indicate that warnings were brought to the company’s attention this July. Again in September, the company was given a warning that its authority to dump dirt on the site had been rescinded. But apart from the warnings, no punishment or action was taken, according to the Chinese version of Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster.