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Coal Mine Explosion Kills 26 in N. China
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Rescuers have recovered seven more bodies from a north China coal mine hit by a gas blast on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 26, local authorities said on Thursday.

The explosion occurred at around 11:30 AM at the Yujialing Coal Mine located at the Yipingyuan Township, Yaodu District of Linfen City, about 300 km southwest of Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province.

In total, 106 miners were working underground and 80 managed to escape, including one severely injured, according to the local rescue team headed by provincial deputy governor Jin Shanzhong.

In response to the accident, seven Communist Party of China (CPC) and government officials were removed from posts or "nominated" for dismissal at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the CPC Linfen Municipal Committee on Thursday.

The CPC cannot dismiss government officials directly without the approval of the local legislature, but the CPC can propose that the legislative body dismiss a government official.

The officials are: Su Qingping, deputy secretary of the CPC Yaodu District Committee and also head of the district; Fan Kejian, deputy head of the district; Zhao Chenghe and Cui Junyu, director and deputy director of the Yaodu District Coal Mine Bureau; Yin Shuangfeng, secretary of the CPC Yipingyuan Township Committee; Ren Weimin, deputy secretary of the CPC township committee and also head of the township; and Yan Liuping, deputy head of the township, also in charge of workplace safety.

Dai Yunzhi, 43, who suffered a broken neck and serious burns, is receiving treatment at a local hospital where he is currently in stable condition, according to doctor Ji Zeming. The miner's wife said he had only been working at the site for three days.

Most of the victims are from neighboring Shaanxi Province and northwest Gansu Province, local rescue workers said.

Li Fuquan, 47, was working with five people in a shaft when the blast occurred. "I felt a huge shock, and I couldn't hear anything for a while after the explosion, and there was pungent smoke," he said.

Jia Zihai, a miner in his twenties from the neighboring Shaanxi Province, recalls hearing "a thumping noise, and the grid which covered the ventilation outlet was blown up. Then I realized something horrible must have happened."

Jia was above ground repairing a cart at the time of the blast, but four of his family members were killed in the pit.

More than 100 rescuers, including local emergency workers, tried to save the 26 trapped miners.

Rescuers said the underground shafts were over-exploited, and had turned porous like "spiders' webs.” They said the tunnels were stifling and poorly ventilated, and some were filled with carbon monoxide.

Mine owner Zhou Xiaogen and senior manager Li Mingshun, along with several others, have been arrested, local police said. Preliminary investigations show that working conditions in the mine were unsafe and chaotic before the accident.

Yu Youjun, governor of Shanxi, said inspectors would check all mines in the province, and close any mine that violated safety rules or operated without a license. He also encouraged people to report illegal mining operations.

The coal mine company claimed its annual output capacity was 150,000 tons, but its production license, which showed an annual capacity of 90,000 tons, had expired, according to local coal mine safety authorities.

It was the second coal mine gas explosion in Shanxi, China's major coal producing base, in 10 days, following an accident in Jincheng City on March 18, which killed 21 miners.

It is also the second coal mine accident in four months to strike Linfen, a major coal-producing city with more than 400 mines. Twenty-four miners were killed in the blast that struck Luweitan colliery in the city on Nov. 27, 2006. The mine's production permit and safety license had both expired before the accident.

Coal mine accidents killed 4,746 people in 2006 and 357 in the first two months of this year, figures from the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) show.

China has set a goal of reducing the death rate to 2.1 for every one million tons of coal produced by 2010, down from 2.81 in 2005. The 2005 figure was 70 times the United States figure and seven times the figures in Russia and India.

(Xinhua News Agency March 30, 2007)

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