Huge sinkhole swallows bus, kills nine in China

Updated January 15, 2020

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XINING (Qinghai province, China): Rescuers prepare to lift the bus from the sinkhole.—AFP
XINING (Qinghai province, China): Rescuers prepare to lift the bus from the sinkhole.—AFP

BEIJING: An enormous sinkhole swallowed a bus and pedestrians in northwest China, sparking an explosion and killing nine people, state media said on Tuesday.

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.

Sinkholes are not unknown in China, where they are often blamed on construction works and the country’s rapid pace of development.

The incident occurred at around 5:30pm on Monday in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, the state-run broadcaster CCTV said.

Nine people were confirmed dead as of 10pm on Tuesday, according to CCTV.

A search and rescue operation involving more than 1,000 people and 30 vehicles was under way, according to the official Xinhua news agency. An investigation into the cause has been opened.

Video footage published by state broadcaster CGTN showed a person being pulled from the hole by rescue workers.

The collapse left an 80-square-metre (860-square-foot) pit in the street outside a hospital.

The 16 injured were taken to hospital and are in a stable condition, Xinhua added, citing a local emergency management official.

Xinhua said earlier that four people were missing, although CCTV did not specify how many remained unaccounted for as of Tuesday night.

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-metre (33-foot) wide sinkhole opened up at the gates of an industrial estate in Shenzhen.

Some 1,000 emergency workers and 30 vehicles were sent to the site, the emergency management bureau in the city of Xining said. A crane was called in to lift the bus above the sinkhole so rescue workers could look for victims.

Video apparently shot by security cameras just after the accident showed the bus gradually settling into the hole while people nearby scrambled for safety.

Other video showed the bus tipped more than halfway into the chasm that had opened up at a bus stop just outside a health clinic. Light and smoke were coming to the surface, possibly as a result of the rupture of gas or electricity lines. Workers using backhoes, dump trucks and other equipment excavated earth around the collapse.

The the emergency management bureau said the bus had been raised from the collapsed 80-square-metre section into which it had fallen.

The hilly city of Xining is the capital of Qinghai province, one of China’s poorest regions, sitting atop the Tibetan Plateau.

The expedited building of roads, tunnels, bridges and other infrastructure to keep China’s economy strong has often led to corner-cutting on safety, causing fatal workplace and industrial accidents. Mining had also caused instability in the ground in many areas after years of barely restricted mineral extraction.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2020