Rescuers have started the search for 21 miners a full two days after they were trapped in a north China coalmine by a gas explosion.
The blast occurred at Miaojiang Coal Mine, in Chengqu District of Jincheng City, Shanxi Province, on Sunday evening, but the mine owner allegedly failed to report the accident to emergency services, said sources with the Shanxi Provincial Bureau of Work Safety.
On Tuesday afternoon, people close to the company contacted the provincial bureau of work safety, which ordered the Jincheng City Bureau of Work Safety to immediately investigate.
A team from the Jincheng City Bureau of Work Safety later on Tuesday confirmed the gas explosion after completing the investigation.
A rescue team arrived at the site at 8:40 PM to discover that the main shaft and the side passage were all sealed off. When they unblocked the shaft, rescuers found that the miners had been working beyond the officially approved coal bed.
Police have arrested Wang Junjun, the owner of the Miaojiang Coal Mine, who allegedly attempted to conceal the incident.
Questioned by police early on Wednesday, it is reported Wang admitted there was a gas blast on Sunday and that 21 miners were trapped, but failed to provide the exact time of the explosion.
Shanxi Provincial Communist Party and government leaders ordered the use of all possible resources in the rescue operation, and demanded the exact number of casualties, factors related to the accident, and an investigation into the alleged cover-up, with legal action to follow if warranted.
Vice Governor Jin Shanzhong on Wednesday led a group of experts to Miaojiang Coal Mine to oversee rescue efforts.
(Xinhua News Agency March 21, 2007)