Death toll rises to 66 from Chinese coal mine explosion as relatives scuffle with police


Friday, October 22nd 2004, 10:30 am
By: News On 6


XINMI, China (AP) _ Rescue workers pulled more bodies out of a mine shaft choked with toxic fumes Friday as the death toll in China's worst mining accident this year rose to 66, with 82 workers missing and feared dead.

Outside the Daping Mine, frantic relatives of mine workers pressed on barricades and scuffled with police, trying to get in to find their loved ones.

``It has been two days and two nights I haven't see him. I'm just here to find him but they won't let me in,'' said Hua Zhenxue, whose brother is missing. Police argued with some of the relatives and pushed back some who tried to jump the barricades.

The blast at the mine in the central province of Henan tore through the shaft on Wednesday as 446 miners were working, sending the gas density in the mine's atmosphere rocketing to 40 percent in under three minutes, the official Xinhua Agency said.

Most of the dead miners suffocated on the toxic gas that spewed from the coal bed and ignited, officials said.

At least 54 more workers were reported killed or missing in three other mine accidents.

On Friday, grieving relatives waited anxiously near the scene, some collapsed in tears. Others held up photos of the dead as they sobbed.

Haggard rescue workers dressed in orange jumpsuits and yellow hardhats _ part of a 1,000-strong team _ carried out bodies wrapped in green canvas for the third day in a row. Xinhua said their efforts were hampered by the high density of gas in the air and debris from the collapsed shaft.

In its evening broadcast, state television said the positions of the missing 82 miners ``have basically been confirmed,'' but the report did not indicate whether they were alive or give any more details.

Local officials have said that chances of survival for the missing miners are ``quite slim.''

Also Friday, rescuers were searching for 29 miners who were missing after a shaft in the northern city of Wu'an in Hebei province flooded. The accident occurred Wednesday when 63 people were working, according to the State Work Safety Administration's Web site.

Another 12 miners were killed in a mine explosion in the southwestern region of Chongqing, the site said. In southern Guizhou province, five workers died and eight were missing in a third mine blast.

The latest string of accidents come amid a safety crackdown on China's coal mines _ the world's deadliest. Each year, thousands of deaths are reported in explosions, underground floods and other accidents, often blamed on negligence, lack of safety equipment and poor ventilation.

A government report released Thursday said 4,153 people were killed in fires, floods and other accidents in the first nine months of this year _ a drop of 13 percent from the same period last year.

But Sun Huashan, deputy administrator of the safety administration, said the disaster in Henan highlighted ``many problems'' in enforcing safety standards and the pressure to raise coal production in energy-short China.

The Daping Mine in Henan is part of the Zhengmei Group, a state-owned coal-producer. The mine employs 4,100 people.

Xinhua said that all mines belonging to Zhengmei have been ordered to stop production, a move that will affect coal supplies to about a dozen power plants.

Other coal mines throughout Henan are being ordered to improve their safety supervision to avoid similar accidents, Xinhua said.