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06 Dec 2007 15:42
At least 40 people were killed and 74 others trapped underground after an explosion at a coal mine in northern China on Thursday, with a group of rescuers among the missing, officials said.
The gas blast occurred just after midnight at a mine in Linfen city, a coal-rich area in Shanxi province, the state administration of mine safety said, in the latest tragedy to hit China’s notoriously unsafe mining industry.
“Thirteen miners have been rescued and sent to the hospital for emergency treatment, 40 have been found dead and 74 are trapped,” the statement said.
A spokesperson for the administration, An Yuanjie, said there were 95 workers in the Ruizhiyuan mine shaft at the time of the accident.
“After the accident occurred, the mine sent in a rescue team of 32 people, but soon after they were trapped as well,” she said.
An said she was unable to give any reason for the initial blast or say how the rescuers also became trapped in the mine.
However, state-run China National Radio’s evening broadcast said the cause was linked to “over-production” at the mine, which had a licence to produce 210 000 tonnes of coal a year, according to the mine safety body.
By late on Thursday afternoon, the official Xinhua news agency said the death toll had risen to 46 and that 96 others were trapped in the mine, but An said the safety administration was not aware of any higher confirmed death toll.
She refused to speculate on the chances of the trapped workers, only saying that rescuers were doing everything they could to save those missing.
The administration said it had launched an investigation into the accident and that the mine’s operators would come under intense scrutiny.
“We must immediately organise the police force, place the mine boss and other people responsible under detention, seal the mine offices and freeze its bank accounts,” the statement said.
State radio later said “key people related to the mine” had been arrested, but gave no further details.
China’s coal mines are among the most dangerous in the world, with safety standards often ignored in the quest for profits and the drive to meet the nation’s booming energy demands.
The central government has previously spoken out against corruption in the industry, with collusion between local government officials and businessmen a particular concern.
More than 4 700 coal miners died in China last year, according to official figures—a fatality rate of nearly 13 a day.
Independent labour groups put the real toll at closer to 20 000 annually, saying many accidents are covered up.
One local farmer said residents were being kept away from the mine.
“The mine is locked down by all kinds of departments, including the police. No one can get near,” said the farmer, who refused to identify himself after being contacted by Agence France-Presse by phone.
Local mine safety bureaus in Shanxi did not answer phones, while other government departments refused to comment.
Meanwhile, Xinhua also reported that at least 11 workers were missing after the entrance to an illegal iron and gold mine well collapsed in neighbouring Hebei province on Monday.
Six miners were killed at yet another mine cave-in in Hebei on Tuesday, Xinhua said in another dispatch on Thursday.
In the worst reported coal accident this year, 172 miners were killed in August when their mine in eastern China’s Shandong province flooded after a nearby river burst its banks following heavy downpours.
Another nine died in a nearby mine in the same circumstances.
Those tragedies were the worst reported coal-mining disasters in China since an explosion at a colliery in the north-eastern Liaoning province in 2005 claimed 214 lives.—AFP
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