10/22/2004, 00.00
china

Death toll rises in Chinese coal mine explosion

Safety standards are ignored in the pursuit of profits. In the first nine months of this year, 4,153 miners were killed.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The death toll in a gas explosion in a Chinese coal mine rose to 64 on Friday and chances that 84 missing miners might still be alive were "quite slim," the government said. The blast ripped through the Daping Mine on Wednesday when 446 miners were at work, according to the government. It said 298 escaped alive.

By Friday morning, there were no reports that any survivors had been found by the 1,000-member rescue force. Most of the dead miners whose bodies had been found so far were suffocated by the toxic gas (methane) that spewed from the coal bed and ignited, state media reported. The gas density in the mine's atmosphere shot up from 2 percent to 40 percent in less than three minutes, Xinhua said.

The state-owned Daping Mine employs 4,100 people and is located in Xinmi city, on the Songshan Mountains, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the major industrial city of Zhengzhou (Henan).

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao instructed local authorities to spare no efforts in the rescue operations. Secretary-General of the State Council, Hua Jianmin , arrived in Xinmi yesterday to help direct the rescue operation.  An investigation into the cause of the accident has been launched.

"This accident is the most serious in recent years," the deputy director of the State Administration of Work Safety, Sun Huashan , said in Beijing yesterday.  "The lethal accident exposed a considerable number of safety loopholes in the mining industry"  he added.

Soaring demand for energy on the mainland and pursuit of profits by coal producers are to blame for lax safety standards and a rise in fatal accidents at coal mines. Many coal mines would rather not contribute a portion of their revenue to shore up safety systems

The death toll in China's small private mines translates into 12 fatalities for every million tonnes of coal produced, while in state-run mines the fatality rate is one miner for every million tonnes. In the United States, the rate is 0.03.

China's produced 1.6 billion tonnes of coal last year, making it the world's biggest producer.

Official statistics show more than 4,800 miners were killed in mining-related accidents last year. In the first nine months of this year, 4,153 miners were killed.  Most workers in private and state-run mines were poor migrant farmers with little sense of safety.
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