March 15 Landslide in Shanxi: Death Toll Underreported

March 15 Landslide in Shanxi: Death Toll Underreported
Before and after the landslide occured on the northern side of Zaoling Township Health Center. (taken from WeChat)

ADHRRF-On March 15, 2019, a landslide struck Zaoling township in Xiangning county under the jurisdiction of Linfen city in Northern China’s Shanxi Province, causing severe casualties. Afterward, however, the local government strove to block news of the incident and cover up the truth, and underreported the number of deaths.

At 6:10 p.m. on March 15, a landslide occurred on the northern side of Zaoling Township Health Center. The hospital’s inpatient department, a two-story bathing center adjacent to it, and the four-story family building of a credit cooperative all collapsed and slid to the bottom of a ditch. Two hours later, another landslide occurred. According to local residents, the landslide caused at least 25 deaths, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official media announced that there were only 20 victims, including the missing.


Authorities cover up truth, knowingly underreport death toll

On March 21, the CCTV News reported that on the morning of the 21st, rescuers found the remains of one person who was killed in the landslide and claimed to be the last person with whom contact had been lost. According to the report, in total, 13 people were rescued and 20 were killed in the landslide.

However, according to a patrol officer at the scene and local residents, the landslide resulted in at least 25 fatalities.

On March 20, by which time the search-and-rescue operation had continued for five days, a Bitter Winter reporter secretly interviewed a special police officer who was patrolling the streets. When asked about the number of deaths caused by the landslide, the police officer looked around and then said, “There were 25 deaths, including three bodies, two male and one female, that no one claimed; they were from out of town. ”


Subsequently, the reporter spoke with several local villagers to learn about the situation. The numbers given by the villagers were the same as those provided by the special police officer.

One veteran said, “In order to keep their positions as officials, those in power in the CCP government don’t dare to report the real numbers of deaths!”

March 15 Landslide in Shanxi: Death Toll Underreported
The authorities put up an announcement, claiming 20 people in total were killed or went missing as a result of the landslide. (taken from WeChat)
March 15 Landslide in Shanxi: Death Toll Underreported
A notice received by a WeChat group of local secretaries of Communist Youth League, prohibiting dissemination of information about Zaoling landslide. (taken from WeChat)

People go online to seek help, news blocked

According to local villagers, after the landslide, people at the scene immediately posted videos to some WeChat groups, calling on people from all walks of life to provide assistance to those affected by the disaster. The local government promptly issued an urgent notice regarding the matter, demanding that all posted videos of the landslide be deleted, or else the relevant persons would be held accountable.

When the second landslide occurred, a witness at the scene saw that all the rescue workers were buried in the rubble. The witness promptly posted a video of the landslide to WeChat, and remarked, “All of the rescue workers have been buried!” According to one villager, as soon as this message was sent, the witness was geolocated and arrested by police officers patrolling the scene, and was accused of “spreading online rumors.”


The villager also revealed that on March 16, Zaoling township’s network signal was switched off. For three days afterward, government officials, schools, and students’ parents in the surrounding villages and towns received via WeChat groups urgent notices prohibiting the online dissemination of any news related to the incident.

March 15 Landslide in Shanxi: Death Toll Underreported
A notice posted by a school in Zaoling township: Dissemination or discussion of the Zaoling landslide is prohibited. (taken from WeChat)

Subsequently, people in the area surrounding Zaoling township were unable to view any real information regarding the Zaoling landslide on their cellphones. Even local villagers could only learn about the progress of the search-and-rescue work through the CCTV News channel.

At the same time, the authorities strengthened their control and blockade of the disaster scene. At an intersection less than five kilometers from the site of the Zaoling landslide, a traffic police checkpoint was set up to prohibit access of any vehicles from out of town; all passing vehicles had to be registered, and access was banned for any vehicles not from the local area. One kilometer from the site of the disaster, another special police checkpoint was set up to block any unrelated personnel from entering the disaster scene. Police tape was also put up on the streets, with a special police officer every several meters. The streets were filled with the vehicles of special police and public security personnel.

March 15 Landslide in Shanxi: Death Toll Underreported
An intersection leading to the site of the landslide is blocked off.

Reported by correspondent Chenyang