11/15/2006, 00.00
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Coal mines in China: cemeteries for migrants

According to official sources, the growing demand for coal prompts managers to increase production and to reopen illegal mines. More than 100 miners have died in just a few days in accidents that could have been averted.

 Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 100 miners have been killed in a string of accidents in eight days, according to the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS). The authorities are unable to manage effective safety inspections as mines operate without a licence or in violation of security limits.

Three accidents happened in the northern province of Shanxi, the largest coal producer and also the area hardest hit by disasters. So far, 26 people have been confirmed killed in a blast on the night of Sunday, 12 November in Nanshan mine in Wangyu village, Lingshi County. There are still eight people "missing" but right from the start it was clear that it would be very hard to save them because of toxic gas and fire in the tunnel. Victims were above all migrants from Shandong and Sichuan. The mine produces 90,000 tons of coal per year but has been working for six months without a licence.

Meanwhile the death toll of an accident on 5 November in Jiaojiazhai mine in Xinzhou city has risen to 40, with seven miners still "missing". The outcome could have been far worse, considering that there were 393 miners at work in the pit when the explosion occurred. Two and half hours earlier, the security system had signalled an abnormal gas concentration with a high risk of explosion but the managers did not any steps to suspend work. Now they have "escaped", without even reporting the disaster to the local authorities.

On 8 November, a gas explosion in Xinpo mine in Leiyang City in Hunan left eight miners missing. Hope is fading fast of finding them alive because of the high intensity of toxic gas. The managers did not even know the name of the miners on duty and Li Ming, vice mayor, said that to find who the missing people were, "we had to visit the miners' families one by one".

According to official statistics, in October, the number of coal mine accidents surged by 26.1% over September. The number of miners killed rose by 44%.  The SAWS report shows that China's coal mine safety is "growing worse" and there is a high risk of mines closed because they were unsafe resuming production. Coal accounts for nearly 70% of the country's energy sources. To meet growing demands, steep production targets are often achieved at the expense of safety norms. The central government has long been trying to make mines safer places to work in but the reality is that local government fail to intervene with sufficient inspections and sanctions against those violating security norms. Even the security authorities intervene strongly after grave disasters have taken place. In the first nine months of 2006, 23% less deaths were reported than in 2005. But anyhow, there were more than 2,000 accidents that claimed 3,284 victims.

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See also
Mining executives to go down into the mines
50 killed in yet another mine blast
Beijing: death in mines decrease
Two managers condemned for death of 166 miners in Shaanxi
2,900 die in Chinese mines over 8 months


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