The Communist Party chief of Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city where a huge pile of construction debris collapsed, toppling 33 buildings and trapping dozens of people, bowed in contrition on Friday and vowed to punish anyone found culpable. The apology came on the same day that central government investigators confirmed that the disaster was man-made.
The party secretary, Ma Xingrui, made the unusual gesture of official remorse during a televised news conference five days after the landslide of dirt and waste unleashed a torrent of mud that smothered or wrecked the buildings, including factories and housing.
By the latest count on Friday, 75 people were missing. By Thursday, a city paper reported, rescuers had found the bodies of seven victims, although their identities had not been confirmed. One survivor was pulled from a building buried under the dense, rust-brown muck.
Mr. Ma said the Shenzhen government “expresses its condolences for all the victims, and offers sincere apologies to the families of the victims and the missing, to those who were injured and other members of the public who have suffered,” Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based satellite service, reported.
With other senior city officials at his side, Mr. Ma bowed to the cameras and indicated that he would also accept responsibility for the disaster. The Shenzhen city leadership, he said, “will assume whatever responsibility should be assumed, accept whatever punishment is due, and punish whoever should be punished.”
In China, disasters are often followed by dismissals of officials and prosecution of bureaucrats and executives deemed culpable. It became even more likely that the debris slide in Shenzhen would bring similar recriminations after central government investigators declared that it was not a natural disaster.
“This disastrous slide involved the slipping of an accumulation of construction waste, not the sliding of a hill,” the investigators found, according to a report on Friday by Xinhua, the official news agency. “This was not a natural geological disaster, but an industrial safety accident.”
Reports in state-run media and comments by officials have already indicated that the slide was caused by human error, and that officials failed to act on warnings that the dumpsite was dangerous and poorly regulated. But the official finding by the central government team will mean that the subsequent investigation is more focused on establishing responsibility. “Culpability will be sternly pursued according to the law,” Xinhua reported, citing the investigators.
Mr. Ma said at the news conference that city officials would “resolutely support” the investigators’ definition of the disaster and cooperate with their inquiry.