BEIJING The governor of a northern Chinese province resigned Sunday after the death toll in a landslide triggered by the collapse of an illegal mining dump rose to 254, state media and an official said.
The landslide last Monday in Shanxi province's Xiangfen county was triggered when the retaining wall of a mining dump containing tons of liquid iron ore waste collapsed, inundating a village of 1,300 residents and an outdoor market in a matter of minutes.
Rescuers have found 254 bodies and identified 128 of them by late Saturday, a duty officer surnamed Zhang at the Shanxi provincial government told The Associated Press.
On Sunday, Shanxi Gov. Meng Xuenong resigned from his post at a standing committee session of the Shanxi People's Congress, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Considered a close ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao, Meng was appointed acting governor of Shanxi province, China's biggest coal producer, in April 2007. Meng previously worked in the Communist Youth League, Hu's power base.
In April 2003, Meng was sacked as mayor of Beijing for bungling the response to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. The outbreak eventually led to 2,000 people being hospitalized and 10,000 quarantined.
Xinhua said the People's Congress session appointed as acting governor Wang Jun, who is head of the State Administration of Work Safety.
Authorities have refused to give an estimate of the number of people missing in the landslide. The tally could rise as more than 1,000 rescue workers comb through 74 acres of sludge and mining waste covering the area, where hundreds more people could be buried.
Identifying the bodies has proved difficult because most of the workers at the illegal mine were migrants from elsewhere, state media have said.
Xinhua cited the head of the rescue effort as saying the team was searching for bodies in a 330-yard ditch filled with silt.
"This is the toughest phase of the ongoing rescue," the report quoted Lian Zhendong, chief of the rescue headquarters, as saying. "We will do our utmost to finish the search in three to five days."
Power and telecommunications have been restored at the site, Xinhua said. An Associated Press photographer at the site said police have now blocked access to the disaster zone.
The head of Xiangfen county and the county's Communist Party committee chief have been suspended from duty, Xinhua said.
Thirteen officials from the Tashan Mining Co., which ran the illegal mine, have been taken into police custody, including the chairman of the company's board of directors, the mine owner, the deputy mine chief, and company accountants, it earlier reported.
Xinhua said the accident led to direct economic losses of $1.34 million.The disaster underscores two major public safety concerns in China: the failure to enforce protective measures in the country's notoriously deadly mines, and the unsound state of many of its bridges, dams and other aging infrastructure.
Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.