08/22/2007, 00.00
CHINA

Beijing admits Xintai mining accidents were “completely avoidable”

Party media and government websites admit that flooding was likely and that mining executives were forewarned but did nothing. As remaining hopes for rescue fade local authorities are trying to prevent families from talking to “outsiders.”

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Rescue workers continue to pump water from the two flooded Huayuan and Minggong mines in Xintai (Shandong Province) where 181 miners have been trapped since last Friday. As fears that rescue operations might be a waste of time, families’ desperation is turning into anger for a disaster that could have been predicted and avoided. But the government is doing its utmost to prevent them from talking about it.

The Huayuan mine is flooded with an estimated 12 million cubic metres of water. If all six available pumps were used around the clock they could pump out about 120,000 cubic metres of water a day. But only four are at present operational. Unofficially, experts say that it would take almost 100 days to drain the water inside the mine.

Shandong Deputy Governor Wang Junmin did not confirm the information but he told the workers' families on Monday that the rescue operation will continue till the dead and missing are found. However, local authorities have not yet talked about the causes of the disaster or possible responsibilities.

The lack of information about the incidents has led relatives to protest and clash with police. Families complain that mine flooding was expected in the rainy season and want the culprits named. They have repeated that everyone was aware that last Friday’s rains were heavier than usual and are asking why work continued without additional safety measures.

State-run China Daily reported that the “Huayuan [mining company] also reportedly received six phone calls from the Xintai Administration for Work Safety on Friday, before the accident, but took no action.”

“The workers from the day shift, most of whom managed to escape later, reported the rising water levels and submerged work areas to management, but the company did nothing,” a miner, whose brother-in-law remains missing, is quoted as saying.

Another miner said the mine had flooded repeatedly since it opened in 1957 and that past accidents have been covered up.

A commentary on the Chinese government's official website, china.com.cn, acknowledged that  signs of imminent flooding appeared well before the nearby Wen River burst its banks and said that the “disaster was completely avoidable.”

The company and local government appeared to be isolating the angriest families, taking some away and putting them up in hotels in the main centre of Xintai. Local sources are also saying that some neighbourhoods with a lot of mining families have been sealed off, with plain-clothed guards keeping outsiders away.

Ren Qingrui, whose cousin was trapped in the mine, told the South China Morning Post what he wanted from the government. “Just tell us clearly about the rescue and how much longer it will take,” he said. “We don't want to be filled with empty promises and kept in the dark.”

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