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Officials Penalized for Colliery Blast

Shi Jichun, vice governor of central China's Henan Province, was given an administrative warning for his part in a fatal colliery blast that left 148 miners dead in the province last October.

The disciplinary action was announced Wednesday at an executive meeting of the State Council, China's cabinet, which was presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao.

The investigations of five other people in the case have been transferred to judicial departments for further action, while another 18 officials received various Party and government disciplinary action depending on their level of responsibility for the tragedy.

The accident took place at the Daping Coal Mine, part of the state-owned Zhengzhou Coal Industry Group, on October 20. A total of 446 miners were at work in the mine when the explosion occurred, and 298 miners escaped. Some 21 were injured.

After the blast, the State Council immediately dispatched investigators to the site and invited work safety experts to help determine the causes of the accident.

Underground detectors had shown an abnormal gas concentration before the disaster, but officials failed to respond in time.

The explosion that tore through the mine shaft as 446 miners were working sent the gas density in the mine's atmosphere rocketing to 40 percent in under three minutes, Xinhua News Agency reported. Most of the miners suffocated on the toxic gas that spewed from the coal bed and ignited, officials said in the days following the blast.

The mine was the site of three previous fatal accidents, and other mines from the Zhengzhou group have been hit frequently by accidents, according to Xinhua.

Premier Wen admonished the coal mining sector to improve work safety, including implementing a responsibility system, increasing investment in safety equipment, upgrading production through mechanization and improving supervision.

Explosions are the greatest risks in China's deadly coal mines, where gas levels are high, leakages common and safety equipment and procedures often inadequate.

Safety at collieries has lagged far behind the industry's soaring growth in recent years, said Wang Xianzheng, head of the State Ministry of Work Safety, at an annual working conference that concluded on Wednesday.

State-owned coal mines, which produce more than 60 percent of the nation's output, would need at least 5 billion yuan (US$602.4 million) to improve their safety facilities, he said.

(China.org.cn, China Daily January 20, 2005)

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