KUNMING, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Land and Resources Minister Xu Shaoshi urged on Saturday the strengthening of geological disaster prevention and treatment efforts after a landslide killed 46 people in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
"All regions, especially the Three Gorges Reservoir area and earthquake-hit areas or those prone to disasters, should tighten geological disaster prevention and treatment efforts all the time," Xu said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
A landslide hit the Zhaojiagou area of Gaopo Village, Zhenxiong County in Yunnan around 8:20 a.m. Friday, burying 46 residents. All of them-- 24 male and 22 female -- were retrieved dead by Saturday noon.
The fatal disaster triggered public concern over the causes of the landslide, how to prevent such disasters and worries about the future of the residents living in the remote, disaster-prone mountainous areas.
In analyzing the causes of Zhaojiagou landslide, Jiang Xingwu, a geological expert in Yunnan, said Saturday the steep slope with 35 to 50 degrees of inclination and its major composition of earth affected its own stability.
The prolonged rainy and snowy weather over the past month led to the saturation of the slope, triggering the landslide due to gravity, Jiang said after inspecting the scene and adjacent areas.
He added earthquakes with the magnitudes of 5.7 and 5.6 which hit Yiliang County in September were another factor for the disaster. Yiliang, under the jurisdiction of Zhaotong City, neighbors Zhenxiong.
A local villager claimed cracks as wide as 50 centimeters had developed on the slope structure before. But other villagers denied this.
Liu Jianhua, mayor of Zhaotong City, said previous disaster inspections had not found any risks in Zhaojiagou, thus it was not listed as sites under monitoring. There had been no landslide disasters in the area before.
Zhenxiong County is one of the areas most vulnerable to landslides in Yunnan. The number of the geological disaster-prone sites in Yunnan accounts for nearly one tenth of the country's total, according to local media reports.
Some villagers in the landslide-hit area told Xinhua they suspected the landslide had something to do with a nearby coal mine.
But geological expert Jiang Xingwu denied the connection.
"The Gaopo coal mine is the only one in the area. The straight-line distance between the boundary of the mining area and the landslide site is 500 meters. According to the spot inspection and causal analysis of the landslide, there was no direct relationship between the landslide and mining activities," explained Jiang.
Xu, the minister, who led a work group sent by the State Council, or China's Cabinet, inspected the landslide-hit area in Yunnan on Saturday.
"The life of everyone is weightier than Mountain Tai. The geological disaster prevention and treatment is all-weather and allows no slackness," Xu stressed.
The Yunnan Geological Environmental Monitoring Institute said on its website the agency's early warning and forecasting of geological disasters for the flood season in 2012 ended on Nov. 21, but would resume in case of abnormal high precipitation after that date.
The land and resources minister said that "the (Zhaojiagou)landslide reminded us of carrying out geological disaster prevention and treatment whether it is flood season or not."
In 2007, monitoring and early warning by Zhenxiong's land and resources bureau successfully saved the lives of 363 residents in Dayuanzi village, where a landslide happened just half an hour after their evacuation.
In 2012, the country successfully forecast 3,532 geological disasters, preventing 39,964 people from being harmed and avoiding 810 million yuan (about 129 million U.S. dollars) in direct economic losses, said Xu.
"But each life is priceless. Each death is heart-rending," Xu added in the interview with Xinhua.
Yunnan will carry out a thorough inspection and monitoring of disaster-prone areas in the province, according to the provincial working team dealing with the aftermath of the Zhaojiagou tragedy.
"The all-out rescue efforts did not bring miracles. More than 40 compatriots died all of a sudden... We wish the dead rest in peace and that we can be more capable to reduce the losses of disasters," read a post on the Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging service in China."It was a natural disaster, but we should learn more from it."
"We dare not to live in our house any more. What should we do in case of heavy rainfall, or another disaster?" said Pan Jinbi,a resident who had moved to their relatives for temporary shelter.
Zhaotong's Mayor Liu Jianhua said the 138 households threatened by potential landslides in the Zhaojiagou area would be relocated to relatively safe places.
"It is not easy to find a place for reconstruction as most of the places in Zhaotong feature high,steep mountains. But difficulties must be overcome," Liu said.
Minister of Land and Resources Xu Shaoshi said at a recent meeting for land and resources work nationwide highlighted the strengthening of geological disaster prevention and treatment with measures like surveying, monitoring,forewarning and relocation.
"Many places in mountainous Yunnan and Guizhou provinces are not suitable for human inhabitation... We urgently expect the government to increase investment. Relocation is the best choice," said a netizen on the local microblogging service in Yunnan.