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Death Toll Rises to 32 in Coal Mine Explosion

Rescuers found another seven bodies in Baixing Coal Mine in Jixi City of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, bringing the death toll of the mine explosion to 32, said Vice Mayor Xu Zhenlin Tuesday.

Rescuers are still searching for the five workers trapped underground, said Xu.

The trapped had little chance of survival as a high concentration of poisonous gas in the air and fallen rocks make the rescue operations underground extremely difficult, said an expert with the rescue headquarters.

The blast occurred at 6:10 a.m. Monday when 37 miners were working in the shaft about 300 meters below the ground.

Some 120 rescuers have been working in the shaft in turns. None of the bodies has been brought to the ground because the shaft is almost blocked and the failed ventilation system has not been repaired.

Early Tuesday, the headquarters published the name list of the victims. The trapped miners were aged between 22 and 49, 30 of them were locals or former workers laid off from local enterprises that had gone bankrupt, and seven were from southwest China's Sichuan Province.

The local government has set up a work team to deal with the aftermath of the accident and each victim's family would be compensated with 80,000 yuan (US$9,640), said Xu.

Although investigation into the cause of the tragedy is still underway, Xu said defiance of an official safety order might contribute to the fatal explosion.

The coal mine was shut down on Feb. 6 by the local coal mine production safety department because of potential safety problems and the company was fined 20,000 yuan (US$2,400). However, the owner, Wang Shijun, who has been detained by police, confessed he resumed production on Feb. 9 despite the warnings.

Baixing Coal Mine, under the Jixi mining group, in Lishu District, has an annual designed production capacity of 60,000 tons.

About 470 small coal mines, like Baixing Coal Mine, used to be scattered in an area of about 200 square kilometers in Jixi, most of which had hidden work safety dangers. Since November 2003, two major gas explosions, which killed 19 and eight people respectively, had been reported in the city.

The government on Tuesday asked all 331 coal pits and small mines in the city to halt operations and wait until safety inspections have been carried out, said the vice mayor.

Liu Haisheng, vice governor of the province, and Wang Dexue, deputy director of the State Administration of Work Safety, have rushed to the mine to guide the rescue work and supervise the investigation into the cause of the explosion.

(Xinhua News Agency February 25, 2004)

Twin Explosions Kill at Least 32 Workers
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