12/01/2005, 00.00
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Heilongjiang, mine death toll raised to 161

Arrested mine director and local party secretary. Mine operators didn't know anything about the guidelines on emergency notifications.

Qitaihe (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Officials in Heilongjiang have raised the death toll from Sunday's coal mine explosion in Qitaihe to 161, revealing that mine authorities had failed to keep a reliable record of workers underground at the time of the accident.

Police had found that 241 miners were trapped in the Dongfeng mine on Sunday - not 221 as previously reported. Mine director Ma Jinguang and party secretary Chen Zhiqiang had been arrested.

The Heilongjiang Coal Mine Safety Supervision Bureau said the discrepancy in the figures for the number of miners underground was due to the "chaotic management" of the Dongfeng mine, which belongs to the mining giant Longmei Group.

Li Yizhong , head of the State Administration of Work Safety, had been infuriated with the lack of response when he asked the mine operators if they were familiar with the guidelines on emergency notifications. When the operators failed to reply, Mr Li exclaimed: "You are worse than a small-scale, private mine operator!".

When it comes to accidents, small companies are the usual culprit, but the Dongfeng mine is owned by mining conglomerate Heilongjiang Longmei Group, which owns four state-owned coal producers in Heilongjiang province, worth 13 billion yuan (€ 1.3 billion).

The mine had all the necessary government papers and permits in order and has been operating for more than 50 years with a capacity of 500,000 tonnes per year.

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