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At Least 3 Die in Bolivian Landslide

April 1, 2003

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ A landslide roared through a gold-mining town in Bolivia’s tropical lowlands early Monday, killing three people, injuring four others and burying dozens of homes.

Villagers of Chima spent the afternoon digging through a mountain of mud, rock and muck to reach survivors. Others waited hours for emergency crews to arrive from La Paz. There are no landing strips in the remote mountainous area.

It was still unclear how many people were affected by the avalanche in Chima, a town of 1,800.

Local officials said dozens of homes had been buried, but they backed off on initial reports that said 400 homes had been destroyed and many people were missing.

``I want to insist, the disaster is not of the enormous magnitude as we at first thought,″ said Amadeo Herrera, a resident of Chima who spoke on La Paz radio station Fides.

``It’s clear there are people injured, missing and some dead,″ said Oscar Mina, head of La Paz’s public security unit. ``But the big problem is all the confusion this has caused. We’ve received all types of information.″

Officials said many people were working in the mines when the mountain collapsed. But they did not provide a number or indicate their status.

One of the few buildings spared by the landslide was the village schoolhouse, said Toridio Mercado, deputy mayor of Tipuani, a neighboring village with a medical clinic receiving the injured.

Officials working in the medical clinic said four people were confirmed dead and three injured.

``The situation is urgent,″ Mercado said. ``We don’t have even the basis resources. We have two doctors and they need gauze, syringes, plaster and body bags.″

Mina said the governor of La Paz sent a group to assess the situation. The government’s only form of communication with the village, which is 12 hours by road from the capital, so far has been a small radio at the gold mine.

Government officials say the disaster may have been caused by gold-mining operations that weakened a nearby mountain.

The 70-year-old village suffered a similar landslide two years ago that left eight dead. Authorities say that mining tunnels have continually undermined the mountain and put it at risk of collapse.

Update hourly