Rescuers have recovered the bodies of 20 of the 21 miners who were trapped after a gas explosion inside a coalmine in Jincheng City, north China's Shanxi Province, on Sunday evening.
The rescue efforts to search for the remaining miner are ongoing, said sources from the operation headquarters.
The blast occurred at 6:30 PM on Sunday at Miaojiang Coal Mine, in Chengqu District of Jincheng City, 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, leading to an investigation by the Jincheng City Bureau of Work Safety confirming the explosion later that evening.
A rescue team arrived at the site at 8:40 PM to discover that the main shaft and the side passage were sealed off. When they unblocked the shaft, rescuers found that the miners had been working beyond the officially approved coal bed.
Police have arrested 11 people in connection with the blast, including Wang Junjun, the owner of the Miaojiang Coal Mine, who allegedly attempted to conceal the incident.
Questioned by police early on Wednesday, Wang allegedly admitted there was a gas blast on Sunday and that 21 miners working underground at the time were trapped.
The Shanxi Office for Resources Integration had previously instructed the Miaojiang mine to merge with the nearby Gaojiang Coal Mine, with a combined production limit of 90,000 tons a year.
Instead of complying, the operators of the Miaojiang mine organized production illegally and breached the approved stratum for coal production, which led to the accident, said a spokesman for Jincheng City government.
All coalmines in Jincheng, in the southeast of Shanxi, have been ordered to stop production and carry out safety evaluations since the blast.
"Coal mine operators should draw lessons from Sunday's explosion and ensure that safety measures be carried out to the letter," he said.
Provincial Communist Party and government leaders ordered the use of all possible resources in the rescue operation, and a thorough investigation into the exact number of casualties, the cause of the accident and suspected cover-up attempts.
Vice Governor Jin Shanzhong on Wednesday led a group of experts to Miaojiang Coal Mine to oversee the rescue efforts.
Miaojiang Coal Mine is not the first, and unfortunately probably not the last, to delay the report of an accident or attempt a cover-up.
Police in northeast China have arrested the owner of a coal mine who allegedly tried to cover up a fire in which at least six miners were killed.
Xiang Fangshu, owner of the Dongfang No.1 Coal Mine in Dongliang Township of the Fuxin Mongolian Autonomous County, Liaoning Province, was detained on Wednesday, as investigators gathered information related to the case.
The fire broke out at about 3:40 PM on Sunday when 35 miners were working below ground. The fumes suffocated six miners and 15 were injured.
The injured miners, mostly suffering from severe burns, are being treated in a local hospital.
Only 14 miners managed to escape unhurt from the mine.
Xiang allegedly attempted to handle the situation himself and failed to report the accident, but on Monday afternoon someone close to the company contacted the local work safety authorities with information about the disaster.
Xiang allegedly admitted the occurrence of the fire after a team was sent to investigate.
In his government work report delivered to the recently convened annual session of the National People's Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao reiterated that work safety measures should be more strictly enforced.
Observers say the attempted cover-ups in Shanxi and Liaoning on the same day is a clear indication that China still has a long way to go to improve its coal mining safety, as its sustained economic growth drives up demand for coal, the biggest source of energy in China.
(Xinhua News Agency March 22, 2007)