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Oct. 20: A Black Day for Miners

Sixty-four miners have been confirmed dead in China's worst mine disaster this year, and hopes for survival of the 84 still stranded underground at the Daping Coal Mine are slim. The tragedy occurred on Wednesday near Xinmi City in central China's Henan Province.


On the same day, another blast at a mine in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality left 12 dead and one missing. Meanwhile, 29 miners are trapped underground following a flood at a mine in the northern province of Hebei, according to a report on the website of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS).


More than 1,000 rescue workers are laboring around the clock to reach the trapped miners at Daping, but the high density of toxic gas inside the mine has hampered 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 Friday morning, the confirmed death toll had risen to 64.


The provincial government organized the rescue operation. A local source said most of the trapped miners are young farmers 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 have 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.


Outside the office of the Daping Coal Mine, bodies of victims were covered with green canvas awaiting identification.


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 stable 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."


"When I saw the patients they were all black. It was hard to distinguish their original appearance," a nurse recalled of the chaos. "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.


Wednesday's explosion in Chongqing occurred at the Fengchun Mine, which is owned by the Chongqing Songzao Mining Bureau, according to the SAWS website. As of 11:10 on Friday, 12 people were confirmed dead and one missing. No further information was available.


Meanwhile, a flood at the Desheng Coal Mine in Wu'an, Hebei Province -- also on Wednesday -- has left 29 missing. The mine's operators initially reported only six men had failed to escape the mine, but when police intensified their investigation after local citizens complained the owners admitted to the higher number. The mine was originally opened in 1976, and produces about 210,000 tons of coal each year.


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.


(China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency, China Daily October 22, 2004)

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