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Mine blaze kills 33, leaves 28 trapped
By Wang Ying (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-11-22 08:04

Thirty-three miners were confirmed dead yesterday in a fire that broke out on Saturday morning at five iron mines in Shahe, North China's Hebei Province.

Rescuers are ready for an underground operation to search for the survivors at the iron mine November 21, 2004. [newsphoto]
Thirty-three bodies have been discovered in the mines in Zhangzhuang Village of Shahe, a city in southern Hebei 420 kilometres from Beijing and 137 kilometres from Shijiazhuang, capital of the province, said Zhang Fumin, a Shahe government official.

Some 45 miners were rescued and 28 were still trapped, Zhang told China Daily in a phone interview.

More than 100 miners were working in the mines when the blaze began. A preliminary investigation indicates an electric cable may have ignited in one iron mine which is privately run by a local person, Li Shengwen.

The fire spread quickly to four other connected iron mines.

Police and firefighters rushed to the site after the incident was reported at 10:30 am, Zhang said.

Forty-five miners were rescued. However, rescue work was temporarily blocked at night by heavy smoke, the Beijing Youth Daily reported yesterday.

Thanks to the support of additional rescue workers from nearby areas, six smoke-expelling machines were installed and eight ventilation experts arrived to assist in the work.

"Equipped with oxygen, dozens of rescuers got down to the five iron mines to search for any survivors," Zhang said.

"Two pits have already been evacuated and rescuers are searching for trapped miners in the other mines," he said yesterday afternoon.

Since many wood pillars were installed in mine tunnels, fire spread soon from one mine to another and generated heavy smoke, Zhang said.

More than 180 rescuers in 15 teams have searched for the trapped miners.

All the rescued miners have been sent to hospital, including Shahe People's Hospital.

About a dozen injured miners are receiving medical treatment at Shahe, doctors from the hospital told China Daily.

Premier Wen Jiabao has urged local government and other related departments to save the lives of the miners at any cost.

Led by Hebei Governor Ji Yunshi, an investigative team rushed to the site.

The local public security bureau has detained the mine owners and frozen their assets.

The investigation into the cause of the fire is still under way. Mining in China is said to be one of the nation's most dangerous occupations, due to frequent accidents.

The latest two were a gas blowout last Wednesday in a coal mine in Longhui County of Central China's Hunan Province, leaving five dead and three others injured.

Another gas explosion last Saturday in a coal mine in Pengzhou in Southwest China's Sichuan Province claimed six miners' lives and left 13 missing.

In the past month alone, the country has reported a series of mine accidents, which have caused more than 200 deaths.

In 2000, China set up a national surveillance system to keep a close eye on safety conditions at coal mines.

The central government has earmarked more than 4 billion yuan (US$480 million) to help State-owned and small local coal mines in gas explosion prevention and monitoring for the coming years.

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