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China Coal Mine Deaths Rise in October; Last Week, 29 killed in Blast in Shaanxi Province

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3 November, 2008

Twenty-nine Chinese coal miners will be confirmed dead today, following a gas explosion at the state-run Yaotou colliery in Shaanxi Province on 29 October. The methane gas blast was just one of three accidents causing death that day in China’s coal mining industry.

At least three others were killed and 20 more trapped after flooding filled shafts at separate mines in central Henan Province and at Quinghai Coal Mining Co. in Shanxi Province. In the month of October, recorded killings inside the country’s coal mines rose well over the 100 mark, as China’s coal mining industry remains the deadliest in the world.

Also in October, authorities began unravelling a cover-up in which 35 miners were killed on 14 July. That happened due to the mishandling of explosives at the illegal Lijawa Coal Mine in Yuxian County, Hebei Province. Owners had destroyed the bodies, hidden evidence, and paid off journalists and the victims’ families to keep the July incident quiet. A total of 63 people are under investigation.

Last week’s Shaanxi Province blast killed 29 of 36 workers who were inside shafts. They were draining water for the municipal government, which operates the enterprise, when gas ignited. The Yaotao mine had been idle since 3 October due to flooding.

On 19 October, a rope snapped on a cage carrying miners underground at Shenzhou Mining Co. in northern Shanxi Province, China’s centre of coal production. Five miners were killed, and 36 of the 42 inside the cage were seriously injured. The tragedy occurred near Luliang city. Shenzhou Coal’s main shareholder is Taiyuan Coal Gasification Co.

Perhaps the most egregious mine safety crime of late – next to the Lijawa cover-up – happened on 16 October in the Ningxia Autonomous Region of China. Sixteen people were killed at Shenhua Coal’s Dafeng Mine when workers set off two tons of dynamite while blasting rock, well exceeding limits regarding safety.

The victims included five miners who were passing by in a vehicle, and others who were off-duty and in a nearby shed. A total of 48 were injured, including 16 seriously. The blasting firm, Guangdong Blasting Co. Ltd., is being held responsible for its workers’ actions.

A day earlier, the bodies of seven more miners were recovered at the Fuhua Coal Mine, lifting the death count from a 20 September fire caused by an explosion to 26. The mine is in Hegang City, Heilongjiang Province.

From 10 to 13 October, another 29 Chinese miners perished in recorded gas explosions at three collieries. On 13 October, nine died inside Hebei Coal Industries in central Henan Province; on 12 October, 10 were killed when 5,000 cubic metres of methane gas ignited inside the Xingfu Coal Mine in Sichuan Province; and on 10 October, nine Chinese miners died in the Guangxi Autonomous Region’s largest colliery, the Heshan Coal Mine of Heshan City.

Outside the coal sector, a mudslide at an iron-ore tailings dam broke on 8 September killing at least 300 people, with scores more still counted as missing. This happened at Tashon mine in Xiangfen County, northern Shanxi Province. The mine was unlicensed and lax safety procedures were blamed for the collapse of a 3,000-metre-long embankment. Over 1,000 survivors were left homeless, and the governor and vice-governor of Shanxi Province were forced from office because of the disaster.