20080312-gas leak in Xuanhan Sichuan, china daily, env news.jpg
Gas leak fire in Xuanhan Sichuan
Man-made disasters occur with some regularity in China. Many of them are fires or accidents that occur at mines and factories and are blamed on corruption, ineptitude, shoddy production, negligence and all-out push to develop. Safety rules are routinely ignored.

In 1975, 62 dams in Henan Province crumbled over three days or were intentionally destroyed in the midst of record rainfalls, killing at least 175,000 people. Official figures on the disaster were only declassified in 2005.

As part of an effort to cut down on disasters that led to loss of life public officials deemed responsible for them have been fired and had their records publicized.

In January 2003, two people were killed at a stampede at supermarket in Inner Mongolia as 10,000 shoppers pushed to get through the doors to take advantage of bargain prices. In February 2004, 37 people were killed at a lantern festival, during New Year’s celebrations, in Miyung County in a northern suburb of Beijing, in a stampede which began when a man fell on a crowded bridge, setting off a chain reaction. Most of those who died suffocated to death. One witness told AP, “One person fell down...and caused many people to fall down. There was a stampede. It was a lot of people. I’m not sure how many. These things are packed.”

Man-Made Landslides in China That Killed Scores

In September 2008, a landslide in Xiangfen County in Shanxi Province engulfed an entire village, killing 254 and displacing 1,047. The landslide of sludge, mud and mining waste was triggered when a three-story-high, 600-meter-wide retaining wall of a mining dump containing tons of liquid iron-ore waste collapsed, inundating the village of 1,200 residents and an outdoor market with hundreds of customers in minutes. A low-rise office building, a market and some houses were knocked down. Thirteen officials from the Tashan Mining Co., which ran the illegal mine, were detained by police.

In December 2015, at least 85 people were killed when debris from the 100-meter hill of construction waste in Shenzhen, the city adjoining Hong Kong, buried or damaged 33 buildings on an industrial park, including factories, offices, workshops and dormitories. The debris, excavated soil, cement and other construction waste had been piled on the hillside for two years amid the city’s ongoing construction boom, and was seemingly loosened by heavy rain.[Source: Peter Walker, The Guardian, December 21, 2015]

“According to the state-run CCTV, just seven people were rescued overnight, and 13 were in hospital, three with life-threatening injuries. Liu Qingsheng, the vice mayor of Shenzhen, said the landslide covered 380,000 square meters, about the area of 60 football fields. AFP quoted another official as saying the mud was up to 10 meters thick in many places, and inundated with water, making rescue attempts especially difficult as rescuers could not walk on it. One witness told AFP he was heading home when he saw the landslide. “I saw the houses collapse, all the factories got buried,” said Liu Youqiang, 45. A migrant worker told the agency that 16 friends or family members were missing after his home was buried.

“The ministry of land and resources said said heavy rain had loosened the huge pile of building debris. “The pile was too big, the pile was too steep, leading to instability and collapse,” it said in a statement. Some locals said officials had been negligent in allowing the waste to build up. “If the government had taken proper measures in the first place, we would not have had this problem,” one resident, Chen Chengli, told AP. “We’ve been down this road before, it’s too crazy.” His neighbour, Yi Jimin, dismissed the idea it was a natural disaster. “Heavy rains and a collapse of a mountain are natural disasters, but this wasn’t a natural disaster, this was man-made,” Yi said. The landslide sparked an explosion in a section of a natural gas pipeline owned by PetroChina, the country’s leading oil and gas producer. By Monday morning, the fire was extinguished and a temporary section of pipe was being laid.

Man-Made Sinkholes That Swallow Buses and People in China

Sinkholes that swallow people, vehicles and buildings occasionally appear in China. They they are often blamed on shoddy construction, sometimes related to the country's rapid pace of development. In 2016, at least three people fell into a huge sinkhole in central Henan province, which swallowed a section of road and passersby. An initial investigation showed the collapse might have been caused by water pipes buried under the road breaking up due to the rain. In 2013, five people died when a 10-meter (33-foot) wide sinkhole opened up at the gates of an industrial estate in Shenzhen.

In January 2020, a huge sinkhole swallowed a bus and pedestrians Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, in northwest China, producing an explosion and killing nine people. AFP reported: “Footage showed people at a bus stop running from the collapsing road as the vehicle — jutting into the air — sank into the ground. Several people disappeared into the sinkhole as it spread, including what appeared to be a child. The incident also triggered an explosion inside the hole, video showed. [Source: AFP, January 14, 2020]

The incident occurred at around 5:30 pm on a Monday and left an 80-square-meter (860-square-foot) pit in the street outside a hospital. “A search and rescue operation involving more than 1,000 people and 30 vehicles was under way, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Video footage published by state broadcaster CGTN showed a person being pulled from the hole by rescue workers. The 16 injured were taken to hospital Xinhua said earlier that four people were missing

Explosions and Gas Leaks in China

See Factory Disasters, Chinese Factories and Mines, Economics

See Mine Disasters, Labor and Energy

See Natural Gas Disasters, Labor and Energy

In September 2000, an army truck carrying artillery shells exploded while traveling through a residential neighborhood in Urumqi, killing 67 and injuring 309. In September 2005, a truck carrying 18 tons of the chemical nitramine, used in making detonators for explosives, blew up in Mili County in Yunnan Province, killing 11 people and injuring 43.

In December 2005. a gas explosion in a highway tunnel under construction, 100 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, killed 42 people, mostly construction workers.

In April 2006, a blast at an explosives plant in Zhaoyuan city in the coastal province of Shandong killed 20 people. In June 2006, an explosion at a chemical plant owned by the Dun’an Chemical Group in Anhui Province in eastern China, killed 14 people.

In April 2006, 31 people were killed when a two-ton cache if of explosive blew up near a hospital. A hospital administrator moonlighting as a coal mine manager admitted storing the explosives at hospital. In June 2006, 11 people were killed when an illegally stored dynamite cache exploded near the city of Yulin in Shanxi Province. The dynamite was stored in a house owned by a village chief.

In July 2006, an explosion at a villager’s home in a coal mining area killed 43 people in the village of Dingzhai in Shanxi Province. The blast was blamed on the mishandling of explosives and occurred in an area where several such disasters occurred. In area where illegal mining is common explosives are often made in unlicenced workshops that lack required safeguards and are stored in private homes.

Collapsed Buildings and Bridges in China

In Chongqing alone 1,600 people have died as a result of shoddy construction. Forty people died after falling 460 feet when the steel-and-concrete Rainbow Bridge over the Qijang River near Chongqing collapsed. An investigation uncovered faulty welding, $12,000 in bribes given to officials to overlook problems and allow project to exceed its budget. Some of the siphoned-off money was used to build a karaoke parlor with scantily clad girls. Less than a week later, another bridge collapsed in Fujian Province, killing seven people In both cases government officials were arrested on charges of corruption and using shoddy materials.

In June 2007, two officials were sentenced to jail for allowing a blind contractor to build a bridge that collapsed during construction and injured 12 people in the Bujia township in Jiangxi Province. Part of the court ruling stated that the two officials “were in charge of road management and supervision” and “did not ask the contractors to provide certificates guaranteeing their proficiency.”

In the early 2000s, 21 children were killed when a school staircase collapsed in Fengzhen in Inner Mongolia. Most of the dead suffocated under the bodies of classmates. Shoddy construction was blamed. The principal of the school and the owner of a local construction company were arrested.

Many accidents are blamed on shoddy construction. Buildings and bridges collapse. Half finishes skyscrapers lean dangerously.In June 2009, a nearly finished 13-story apartment building in Shanghai collapsed, killing one worker.

In November 2008, a subway tunnel under construction in Hangzhou on Zhejiang Province collapsed, producing a hole that swallowed a 75-meter-long section of road and a bus and 10 other vehicles on it, killing 21 people. Most of the dead were construction workers.

In October 2008, 12 people died after an elevator plunged to the ground at a construction site for a housing project called “Sunshine City in east Fujian Province

In December 2008, a lift carrying workers to a residential development being built in Changsha, Hunan Province plummeted to the ground, killing at least 17 people.

In March 2009, a ceiling at a chemical storage building in southwestern China collapsed, killing 11 workers. The accident at the Jainfeng Chemical Plant, occurred in an area under construction.

Bridge Collapse in Fenghuang

In August 2007, a bridge under construction collapsed in the tourist town of Fenghuang in Hunan Province, killing 47 people, most of them construction workers who were removing scaffolding from the 268-meter-long, 42-meter-high bridge, which spans the Tuo River

An estimated 123 workers were at the site at the time of the accident. Eight-six were rescued. The bridge had four decorative stone arch and was scheduled to open a month later. It was built without steel reinforcement rods because builders wanted to use traditional stone-and-concrete methods. Authorities prevented journalists from investigating the accident, raising suspicions that officials might have allowed shoddy construction materials to be used.

One witness told AP, “I was riding a bike with my husband and we just passed underneath the bridge and were about 50 meters away when it collapsed. There was a huge amount of dust that came up and it didn’t clear for about 10 minutes. On the rescue effort one nearby residents said, “There were arms and legs were broken, only linked with skin.”

Nineteen Dead after House Collapses in Hunan and Restaurant Explodes in Xian

In November 2011, the Shanghai Daily reported: “10 people died and 12 were injured when a house in central China's Hunan Province collapsed during a funeral, officials said. The uninhabited building, in Yuejin Village, Shaoyang City, was being used to hold the funeral of a villager when it collapsed, covering 22 people. [Source: Shanghai Daily, November 16, 2011]

The house had not been maintained for years and was thought to be structurally unsound, officials said. Eight people were confirmed dead after being pulled from the rubble and two others died in hospital. The 12 injured were still being treated in hospital yesterday, but were not in a critical condition, said the local officials. The dead included a three-year-old boy and a 23-year-old woman, while most other victims were senior villagers, officials said. The exact cause was still under investigation.

This came on the same day as a suspected liquid gas explosion in a restaurant swept through the streets of Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Nine people were confirmed dead and 34 injured. Local media yesterday reported that some firefighters claimed the design of the eatery could have concentrated the power of the blast. They said the restaurant was almost completely enclosed with only a narrow gate as an outlet. The explosion would be intensified in the limited space, increasing damage to the surrounding environment. Local media reported that the provincial director had made a public apology for not spotting the safety hazards.

Image Sources: China Daily, Environmental News

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

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