Rescuers suspend searching for 12 missing in China avalanche amid snowstorm

2008-03-20 05:34:56 Xinhua English

GUOZIGOU, Xinjiang, March 20 (Xinhua) -- The search for 12 workers believed trapped in an avalanche which killed four a week ago was suspended on Thursday as bad weather forced the withdrawal of all rescuers.

Strong winds, heavy snow and fog began to hit the site of the rescue operation in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as of Sunday.

A temporary path dug to transport rescuers and equipment to the construction site of a gas pipeline, which was buried in the avalanche last Thursday, was cut off by drifts of snow up to five meters deep on Wednesday, forcing the rescue headquarters to call off the operation.

The 53 rescuers stranded in the new round of snowstorms were evacuated at about 6 a.m. Thursday when police forces cleared the way after ten hours' continuous digging.

The searching and rescue efforts will resume as soon as the weather turns mild, said Wan Shui, deputy head of the Kazak Autonomous Prefecture of Ili, who is in charge of the rescue operation.

At about 11 a.m. last Thursday, an avalanche occurred about three kilometers from a tunnel in a remote mountainous area known as Guozigou in Ili, 500 km from Urumqi, the regional capital.

The avalanche buried 22 workers who were installing a new pipeline designed to send natural gas from Central Asia to the energy-thirsty areas on the east China coast via Xinjiang.

Nearly 400 people had participated in the rescue operation. So far, they have saved six workers and found the remains of four more.

Experts said the chance of survival for the missing persons, who have been buried for more than five days, is very slim.