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27 passengers believed dead in bus found in rubble after landslide in China

The wreckage of a bus was dicovered underneath the rubble in China after workers had cleared rocks from a landslide three days after the accident. Officials said 27 people believed to be on board were unlikely to be found alive.

The landslide tore a 50-meter (165-foot) gash in a mountainside Tuesday and heightened concern that the massive reservoir of the Three Gorges Dam, 200 kilometers (120 miles) away, was wreaking ecological havoc in the region.

Work crews clearing the rubble found the wreckage of the bus Friday morning, a local official and the government's Xinhua News Agency reported.

The bus was traveling from Shanghai to Lichuan city when the accident occurred. Records from a safety checkpoint the bus passed through showed there were 27 people on board, said Tang Mingyi, a government spokesman for Badong county, where the accident happened. Tang was speaking from the accident site.

Xinhua said there were 30 people on board a figure Tang said was wrong.

The landslide had already resulted in one confirmed death, that of a worker building a tunnel on the slope above the highway, and left two of his colleagues missing.

"There's little hope that they're still alive," Tang said, referring to both those on the bus and the two missing workers.

All told the accident may have killed 30 or more people, a toll high even by the poor safety standards of China's roadways.

The accident happened amid a growing debate over the ecological impact of the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project.

A government meeting in September warned about an increase in landslides and other seismic activity as the reservoir level was raised over the past year and sent water seeping into slopes, undermining hillsides of soil and shale.

Chinese officials this week sought to silence the criticism, playing down the environmental impact of the dam, which has been a pet project of the Communist leadership. In comments to state media and reporters, officials have denied any emerging environmental or human catastrophe.

"No one has died, no one has been hurt" in landslides related to the dam, Three Gorges Project Construction Committee spokesman Tong Chongde said Thursday.

Tong said September's meeting on the dam's ecological impact discussed potential problems, not actual ones.

The controversy has raised questions about whether the dam was exacting a price beyond its US$22 billion (Ђ17 billion) construction costs and about the government's decision-making.

Even before ground was broken in 1993, the dam was opposed by environmental and other activists who criticized it as too costly in monetary terms and in terms of the million people who had to be relocated.

But the government ignored and sometimes violently suppressed the criticism, saying the dam would generate needed electricity and help control flooding on the Yangtze.

The impact of the reservoir's rising waters is evident in communities in the hilly country nearby. Residents say they are worried about cracks in their walls and some have felt the ground shift, but feel they have no control over the changes.

In recent weeks, state media and local governments have sketched out new relocation schemes, saying as many as 4 million people may have to be moved from areas near the dam's reservoir in a form of "environmental migration." Among those migrants are many who had previously been forced to move for the dam.

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