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China mine death toll now at 104; four missing

MONDAY, NOV. 23, 2009

Rescuers  prepare to enter the  Xinxing Coal Mine  on Sunday.  (Associated Press)
Rescuers prepare to enter the Xinxing Coal Mine on Sunday. (Associated Press)

HEGANG, China – When gas levels suddenly spiked deep in the Xinxing coal mine, Wang Jiguo grabbed two co-workers and they ran for their lives. Minutes later, there was a huge bang, a torrent of hot air and the earth shuddered.

The death toll two days later was up to 104, with four still missing, the official Xinhua news agency said today. The accident Saturday was the deadliest in China’s mining industry in two years, and has highlighted how heavy demand for coal comes at a high human cost.

“Development is important, but the growth of GDP shouldn’t be achieved at the price of miners’ blood,” provincial governor Li Zhanshu said, urging officials to better manage coal mines.

At the site of the blast, search and rescue efforts appeared to be over today as grieving family members gathered outside mining company offices.

At a working shaft a few hundred yards away from the blast, Xinxing miners jostled outside the opening before descending for their shift. “Of course we’re scared,” one man said, but another said: “We’ve still got to work.”

Coal is vital for China’s economy, which is targeted to grow by 8 percent his year, and its 1.3 billion people, as it is used to generate about three-quarters of the country’s electricity.

The blast at the nearly 100-year-old mine in Heilongjiang province, near the Russian border, shows the difficulties the central government faces in trying to improve safety. It has shuttered or absorbed hundreds of smaller, private mines into state-owned operations in recent years.

Of the 528 people reported working in the mine at the time of the explosion, 420 escaped, Xinhua reported. At the Hegang Mining Group General Hospital, which a spokesman said was treating 32 injured miners, a few were in the intensive care unit under police guard.


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