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Coal Mines Told to Look for Hidden Risks
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The government has asked all major state-owned coal mines to conduct thorough probes for hidden safety risks to prevent fatal accidents and warned officials that those found guilty of negligence or dereliction of duty face severe punishment.

Head of the State Administration of Work Safety Li Yizhong said yesterday that coal mine safety was the top priority in the country's fight to prevent fatal accidents.

The move comes after an accident in a Liaoning coal mine on Saturday killed 22 people. Seven others are still missing.

During an online interview with netizens, Li reiterated that this year China would close 10,000 small coal mines, most of which are illegal or unsafe, to prevent major accidents.

Carelessness and lack of preventive measures are to blame for Saturday's accident at Laohutai in northeast China's Liaoning Province, he said.

As a key state-owned coal mine, Laohutai or "tiger's platform" in Fushun City has many unused underground pits. And it has taken many effective measures to prevent accidents, such as gas explosions and fires, there.

"But since the coal mine had never been flooded, no preventive measures were taken against that hidden threat," he said.

Fifty-three miners were working on a platform of the Laohutai Coal Mine on Saturday when a sudden rush of water submerged it in the evening.

Twenty-four of the miners were evacuated. But the others were trapped inside the mine.

"The accident could have been averted," he said, "if the mine knew about the conditions in the unused pit and taken measures to prevent floods."

The accident has spurred the administration to conduct thorough investigation into possible dangers, especially unused pits. The administration and coal mine supervisors will check the key mines.

Last year, the administration closed more than 8,000 illegal and unsafe coal mines, but safety remains a serious problem, he said.

(China Daily March 14, 2007)

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