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Death Toll Rises to 63 in Coal Mine Blast

Director of the the Shaanxi Provincial Coal Industry Bureau Huo Shichang said today that the death toll in Sunday's gas explosion at the Chenjiashan Coal Mine in northwest China's Shaanxi Province rose to about 63, and the 103 others are still missing.

Forty-five of the 127 miners who escaped or were rescued were injured, according to the local government, mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning, burns and abrasions. All of the men have been hospitalized, with 15 of those listed as seriously injured having been moved to a better-equipped hospital in Tongchuan, where the mine is located.

Most of those injured are out of danger, except one worker still in critical condition, said Song Zhigang, deputy director of the Tongchuan Mining Administration.

There were 293 miners working underground when the explosion occurred in coal pits some 8,000 meters from the mine entrance. Only 127, most of whom were working near the entrance, managed to escape or were rescued.

Most of the trapped workers are local residents and the rest are from the neighboring Henan Province, Song said.

Although the main ventilation system had been repaired by Monday morning, sections
at the No. 415 and 416 work areas, where the explosion occurred, were still not functioning, making those areas inaccessible to rescue teams.

Teams returning from the tunnels said they saw light blue smoke underground. Experts believe the coal bed could be on fire.

"This greatly hobbles the rescue work, but 12 rescue teams with 96 members each are working around the clock to rescue the trapped workers," Song said.

About 1,000 family members of the trapped miners have gathered in great anxiety around the entrance to the mine or the hospitals even though the temperature dropped below zero as they wait for news of their husbands, fathers, sons or brothers.

"My youngest child, Pang Yuming, entered the tunnel on Saturday night and he is still trapped inside," said 66-year-old Nie Ruan'e with a stunned look. "As a tunneling worker, he must have been in the work area near the explosion site. I really don't know if he can get out of the tunnel alive."

An investigation team sent by the State Council, China's cabinet, arrived at the site Sunday night and visited the injured miners.

State Council Deputy Secretary-General You Quan said, "It is necessary to set up a sound information release system, letting the public know about rescue work in a timely way." You is heading the investigation team.

The mine is a high-gas-density colliery. In April 2001another gas explosion killed 38.

An underground fire monitoring system was installed in the mine last November, but on November 23 -- just a week before the explosion -- a fire broke out in the mine. One miner told China Daily that production never halted.

"The firefighting team at our mine made efforts to put out the fire and they worked for nearly a week to control the fire," he said.

China Daily reported that a technician at the mine said that smoldering appeared in the ventilating shaft at the scene and it was certain that a coal-dust explosion occurred together with the gas blast. This makes it highly unlikely that any of the missing miners have survived, and has increased the difficulties for the rescue and recovery teams.

Wang Xianzheng, director of State Administration of Work Safety, led a group formed of heads of the various bureaus concerned and doctors to the Chenjiashan Coal Mine late Monday.

The local provincial and city governments have organized task forces for recovery, medical treatment and the aftermath, appointing staff members to assist family members and attempt to soothe them. Rescue and recovery teams, doctors, nurses and technicians have also been sent to the mine from other parts of the province.

The Shaanxi provincial government issued an urgent notice on Monday, requiring all mines with high gas density in the province to halt operations pending safety inspections.

The Chenjiashan Coalmine is a state-owned venture under the jurisdiction of the Tongchuan Mining Administration. It has more than 3,400 employees and produces 2.3 million tons of coal a year.

This is the second gas explosion causing heavy death toll in a state-owned coal mine in the past 40 days. On October 20, a blast at the Daping Coal Mine in central China's Henan Province killed 148 and injured 32.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily November 30, 2004)

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