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64 Confirmed Dead in Henan Coal Mine Blast

Sixty-four miners are confirmed dead as of Friday morningand hopes for survival of the 84 still stranded underground are slim in the aftermath of a gas explosion at the Daping Coal Mine. The tragedy occurred near Xinmi City in central China's Henan Province.


More than 1,000 rescue workers are laboring around the clock to reach the trapped miners, but the high density of toxic gas inside the mine is hampering efforts, local sources say.


The blast occurred at 10:10 PM Wednesday. A gas monitoring system shows that just minutes earlier, gas density increased from 1.5 percent to 40 percent throughout mine.


A total of 446 miners were inside the mine when the accident occurred. Eighteen of the 298 who managed to escape were injured -- four of them seriously -- while the rest were trapped underground.


As of 10:00 AM Friday, the confirmed death toll had risen to 64, at least 55 of whom died from suffocation.


A sign over the entrance to the pit says, "Safety First."


The provincial government organized the rescue operation. A local source said most of the trapped miners are from Henan Province.


A 14-member task force of the State Council headed by Secretary-General Hua Jianmin arrived at the mine Thursday afternoon.


President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao directed the provincial and local governments to spare no effort to save the trapped miners, determine the cause of the accident and deal with the aftermath.


At the office of the Daping Coal Mine, bodies of victims were covered with green canvas awaiting identification, according to the Xinhua News Agency.


All of the injured miners were sent to the general hospital affiliated with the Zhengzhou Coal Industry Group Corp., a state-owned enterprise that owns the Daping Mine.


Hospital officials refused to give journalists access to the facility or to grant interviews, other than stating that many of the injured miners suffered smoke inhalation or skin lacerations when they escaped.


Zhang Peifang, a neurologist who came out of retirement to help in the emergency, said that four of the injured men were burned, nine had been overcome by gas and five had only skin wounds.


He stated that the most seriously injured man suffered severe burns and multiple fractures and lacerations of the legs and skull. The patient was in satisfactory condition following surgery.


One nurse, who declined to give her name, said, "So many patients were sent to the hospital at one time, there weren't enough doctors and nurses on duty. So we had to call all doctors, nurses, logistics and office staff to help give medical care."


Those who came to help included professors and department heads from the College of Medicine at Zhengzhou University and other large hospitals in Henan.


"When I saw the patients they were all black. It was hard to distinguish their original appearance," a nurse recalled of the chaos. "We helped them to clean up and change into clean new clothes, which were brought in by logistics staff after the patients arrived."


"Some of the patients can't eat by themselves, so we feed them meals and water," she said. "We chatted with some of the less seriously injured patients . . . most of them didn't want to recall the panic of the disaster," she said.


Located at Songshan Mountain, 40 kilometers southwest of Zhengzhou, the Daping Coal Mine had 4,100 employees. Put into operation in 1986, the mine produces about 1.3 million tons of coal annually.


This is the third mining accident reported in the Xinmi area in the past six months. Last April, 12 workers were trapped underground for 109 hours by flooding in Zhengzhou Coal Industry's Chaohua Mine, also in Xinmi. All 12 survived. On September 23, a gas explosion at a smaller, privately owned mine left at least seven miners dead.


Every year, gas explosions, cave-ins and flooding kill thousands of miners in China. The State Administration of Work Safety reports that in the first nine months of 2004, 4,153 people died in mining accidents. Official figures for 2003 put the total deaths in mining accidents at 6,702.


(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily October 22, 2004)

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