China coal mine blast kills 20, traps 23
BEIJING—At least 20 workers were killed and another 23 were trapped underground after a blast at a mine in China on Thursday, state media said, in the latest disaster to hit the country’s vast mining industry.
Hundreds of emergency workers and medics have been sent to the mine in southwest China to try to rescue the surviving workers, but their efforts are being hampered by a gas leak, the official China News Service (CNS) said.
Ventilation machines were pumping methane gas out of the shaft while rescuers took turns heading down the pit to search for survivors, Xinhua news agency reported late Thursday.
The mine was hit by a “coal and gas outburst” – a sudden and violent ejection of coal, gas and rock from a coal face in a mine, which can cause serious injuries and damage machinery, a local mine safety official told AFP.
CNS said 20 people had been confirmed dead at the privately run Sizhuang Coal Mine in Shizong county, in the southwestern province of Yunnan.
“Eighteen rescue workers are down in the coal mine, but the high levels of gas could cause an explosion, making it hard to progress with the rescue,” Tan Xiaopeng, the head of the local firefighting department, told CNS.
Xinhua said more than 30 ambulances had been dispatched to the mine, and that two senior government officials were traveling to the site of the accident to oversee rescue efforts.
Quoting local work safety officials, Xinhua said the mine was operating without a license after its permit was revoked a year ago.
The accident comes days after a rock blast in a coal mine in the central province of Henan trapped dozens of workers underground.
Most were eventually pulled out after a 40-hour rescue operation, though 10 were killed.
Coal mine accidents are common in China, where work safety is often neglected by bosses seeking a quick profit.
Last year, 2,433 people died in coal mining accidents in the country, according to official statistics – a rate of more than six workers per day.
Labor rights groups, however, say the actual death toll is likely to be much higher, partly due to under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses and avoid punishment.
China’s rapid economic growth has caused demand for energy, including coal, to surge.
The Asian nation is the world’s leading consumer of coal, relying on it for 70 percent of its growing energy needs.
Over the past eight years it has on average built one coal-fired power station a week. And with the arrival of winter, mines are operating at full capacity.
Fatalities at Chinese coal mines peaked in 2002 when 6,995 deaths were recorded, sparking efforts by the government to boost safety standards.
In its latest campaign, the government last year issued a policy that required six kinds of safety systems – including rescue facilities – to be installed in all coal mines within three years.
But accidents still occur on a regular basis. Last month, a gas explosion at a state-owned coal mine in the central province of Hunan left 29 miners dead.
Earlier in October, blasts at mines in the southwestern city of Chongqing and the northern province of Shaanxi killed 13 and 11 miners respectively.
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