CHINA / National

Flood in Shanxi coal mine traps 44 miners
Updated: 2006-05-21 16:22

An underground flood trapped 44 miners in a coal mine in northern China, and nine mine managers were detained after apparently trying to conceal the scale of the disaster, the government said Sunday.

The flood Thursday in the Xinjing Coal Mine in Shanxi province was the biggest accident so far this year in China's disaster-plagued mining industry, which suffers thousands of deaths annually, according to television reports.

Rescuers install steel pipes to pump water out of the flooded shaft of a coal mine in order to rescue at least 44 still trapped underground in Zuoyun county, Shanxi Province May 20, 2006. A total of 145 miners were working underground when the flooding accident took place on Thursday night, and 101 managed to escape, rescuers said. [Xinhua]

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, called on Sunday for quickening efforts to rescue the miners trapped in the flooded pit.
Li, Shanxi Party secretary Zhang Baoshun and governor Yu Youjun, have arrived at the flooded coal mine to coordinate the rescue efforts.

Li called for more pumping facilities be sent to speed up pumping water from the flooded pit, hoping to increase the chance of survival for the trapped miners.

Six bigger pumps have been installed and more pumps will be installed later on Sunday to quicken the rescue operation, said head of the rescue team.

Li also ordered that the exact number of miners who got trapped in the flooded colliery be verified. Local safety authorities had tried to cover up the deadly accident by reporting earlier that only five miners were trapped.

A 200-member rescue team was searching for the missing miners, the Xinhua News Agency reported. It is unknown yet how many were believed to be alive.

Mine managers failed to report the true size of the disaster, saying only five miners were missing, Xinhua said.

"In this sense, the actual situation of the accident was covered up," Xinhua quoting Gong Anku, head of the Shanxi provincial industrial safety bureau, as saying.

Nine managers have been detained, and their boss is in hiding, Xinhua said. Mine managers drove relatives of missing miners by taxi out of Shanxi to the neighboring Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region "to prevent them from rioting and speaking to the press," and one driver, instructed by the boss to transfer the relatives, was beaten up by the angry relatives, according to the report 

Mine managers in other places have used similar tactics after previous accidents, effectively detaining miners' families to compel them to accept financial settlements and promise not to speak up.

Rescue workers were using nine pumps to drain the mine and were bringing in three more to speed up the rescue operation.

A total of 145 miners were said to be working underground in the Xinjing Coal Mine at the time of the accident, and 101 escaped, Xinhua said.

But television report said the number of missing might be even higher, because disorderly mine management left it unclear how many were working underground.

The mine was operating at more than 10 times its licensed output level, digging as much coal in one month as it was supposed to produce in a year, state TV said.

China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with about 6,000 deaths every year in fires, floods and explosions, often blamed on indifference to safety rules and lack of required equipment.

The annual death toll has been unchanged in recent years despite repeated official promises to crack down.

Safety efforts have been complicated by soaring coal prices amid China's booming economic expansion, which encourages local officials to overlook violations in order to maximize revenues.


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