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At Least 56 Dead in Henan Coal Mine Blast

A gas explosion that ripped through a coal mine in central China's Henan Province has killed at least 56 people and left dozens more trapped underground.


The explosion occurred just before 11:00 PM Wednesday at the Daping Mine in the city of Xinmi.


Sun Huashan, vice director of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), said at a press briefing on Thursday morning that 446 people were working underground at the time of the blast.


Fifty-six of the miners had been reported dead at the time of the briefing. Sun stated that 92 were still in the mine, but the chances of their survival were slim.


Eighteen of the 298 who made it to the surface were injured, four of them seriously. The other 14 are reported to be in satisfactory condition.


Sun said that this was the worst coal mine accident so far this year.


Local and provincial leaders are on the site and SAWS has sent a team to investigate the cause of the accident.


The miners are from Shandong, Sichuan and Anhui provinces as well as from Henan.


The Daping Mine belongs to the Zhengzhou Coal Industry Group Corp.


On September 23 in Xinmi City's Goutang Township, a gas explosion at a smaller, privately owned mine left at least seven miners dead.


Last April, 12 workers were trapped underground for 109 hours by flooding in Zhengzhou Coal's Chaohua Mine, also in Xinmi. All 12 survived.


Every year, gas explosions, cave-ins and flooding kill thousands of miners in China. SAWS reports that in the first nine months of 2004, 4,153 people died in mining accidents, a figure only slightly lower than all the deaths in the metals, construction, chemicals and explosive materials industries combined. Official figures put the total deaths in mining accidents in 2003 at 6,702.


However, the covering up or underreporting of casualties is a problem, said Sun. So far this year, SAWS has received six reports of cover-ups at coal mines and is investigating those allegations. The central government has stated that it will take severe action against any mine operators found to be hiding information on accidents.


Sun stated that although the overall situation is improving in China's coal mines, the accident at the Daping mine reveals insufficiencies in the safety system.


Soaring energy needs of the booming economy and skyrocketing oil prices mean that the country will remain substantially dependent on coal. Many mine operators ignore safety standards in the press to meet demand.


(China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency October 21, 2004)

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