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Gas blast in Shanxi mine kills at least 23
By Xiao Liu (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-03 07:04

A colliery gas blast on Wednesday killed at least 23 miners and sickened 53 others in North China's Shanxi Province, local mine safety authorities said yesterday.

Altogether 697 miners were working in the pit when the blast went off around 7 pm at Sihe Coal Mine under the State-owned Jincheng Mining Group, said an official with the provincial coal mine safety supervision bureau who declined to be named.

"No more deaths will occur in the mine as the rest of the miners are all safe," Tai Jie, an employee of the general office of the mining group, told China Daily in a telephone interview yesterday. She was the only person on the managerial staff who could be reached to comment on the fates of the more than 600 miners.

No other verification or statement on the workers' conditions could be found. The website of the State Administration of Workplace Safety (SAWS) had no updated news late last night.

The death toll was confirmed at noon yesterday.

Search and rescue efforts ended yesterday morning, and the sickened miners were taken to a local hospital for observation and treatment. They were affected by carbon monoxide. One poisoned miner was still in critical condition, according to a hospital source who refused to be identified.

A preliminary investigation shows the explosion occurred at an airtight area in the pit.

It was not clear if the 23 who were killed died from the blast or poisoning, and how the carbon monoxide poisoning occurred.

SAWS Director Li Yizhong emphasized yesterday the urgency to clarify the number of miners on the spot of the accident and properly handle the aftermath.

Wang Shuhe, deputy director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, was already at the scene, leading an investigation team.

Shanxi Governor Yu Youjun and work safety officials also rushed to the mine earlier yesterday morning to direct rescue work.

Families of the victims were being contacted.

The tragedy happened on the fourth day of the Year of the Dog, according to the lunar calendar. Local sources told China Daily that most of the miners were from villages nearby who hoped to earn some extra money by working during the Spring Festival holiday.

The Sihe mine is a large-scale State-owned colliery with an annual output of 10.8 million tons.

It was built in 1996 and began operations in 2002 with a designed output of about 4 million tons. The yearly production was expanded to 10 million tons after a two-phase expansion was completed last year.

Despite repeated central government call for workplace safety, some local officials and mine owners have ignored safety rules in pursuit of profits at the expense of lives of workers. More than 5,000 miners were reportedly killed last year.

Last month, the central government said it would close 5,290 coal mines for safety violations in a campaign to reduce the death toll in the mining industry.

About one-fourth of the 1,200 mines in Shanxi, the country's leading coal-producing province, were targeted to be closed because they lacked proper safety measures, according to a report from the National Development and Reform Commission.

Xinhua contributed to this story

(China Daily 02/03/2006 page1)

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