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At Least 4 Die in Bolivian Landslide

March 31, 2003

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ A landslide buried a goldmining village in Bolivia’s tropical lowlands Monday, leaving four dead and seven injured in a tragedy that authorities say may claim hundreds of lives once rescue personnel begin excavation.

Survivors spent the afternoon digging through a mountain of mud, rock and muck that collapsed Monday morning above Chima, a village 125 miles (190 kilometers) north of La Paz.

``We’ve confirmed that seven people have escaped the disaster and of four of them have died, ``said Toridio Mercado, deputy mayor of Tipuani, a neighboring village with a medical clinic receiving the injured.

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

Grieving family members waited for emergency crews to arrive from La Paz, a 12 hour trip down a treacherous highway itself prone to landslides and other natural disasters.

Authorities in La Paz scrambled to determine the magnitude of the disaster. The goldmine’s only form of communication is a small radio.

``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.″

Mina said the governor of La Paz has sent a group of rescue specialists to assess the seriousness of the accident.

Nearly all of the men in the 1,800-strong community of Chima were working in the mines when the mountain collapsed.

One of the few buildings spared by the landslide was the village schoolhouse where ``the children will lamentably no longer live with fathers,″ Mercado said.

Officials working in the medical clinic said seven men had been transported in the back of pickup trucks to a clinic suffering from a broken back, a fractured skull and a split sternum.

Original radio reports said 400 homes had been buried in the landslide, with 700 missing.

Later radio dispatches said the first reports were exaggerated.

``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. ``But we have to let the authorities know, because someday it might be.″

Chima is a 70-year-old goldmining village with 1,800 inhabitants located in Bolivia’s jungle lowlands. Two years ago it suffered a similar landslide that left eight dead. Authorities say that mining tunnels have continually undermined the mountain and put it at risk of collapse.

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